Apple Orchard Turned Vineyard, Grove City Family Grows Together
GROVE CITY, Ohio (WCMH) – A father-daughter team has combined efforts in Jackson County to restore a family fruit-growing legacy.
During the height of the Roaring Twenties, a farmer in Jackson County decided to plant apple trees. What started as a few grew to nearly 200.
“I grew up on this farm,” said Charles Brown, 69, of Grove City. “The work was extremely difficult.
Brown explained that there was a lot of lifting and a lot of manual labor. The harvest involved 60,000 cantaloupes and 30,000 to 35,000 bushels of apples.
Brown’s daughter returned to central Ohio in the summer of 2020 with her three children.
“Nothing was happening. I mean, there was nothing to do,” Erin Brown-Lewis said. “That’s when I started working on him to start doing this vineyard.”
Brown-Lewis moved from Georgia to be closer to family after a divorce. The idea was to keep her children close to her family.
“I took a trip to Napa Valley three years ago and came back and told Dad that Napa was like our farm,” Brown-Lewis said. “It looks like southern Ohio to me.”
In the Appalachian foothills of Jackson County, they paved the way in the spring of 2021 on two acres of western hillside. The sound of Amish Buggies wheels could be heard dragging the horses’ hooves down the sidewalk as the family dug into the hillside.
“With apples, I always thought if you prune them right, spray them right, you wouldn’t have to worry about it for seven or 14 days,” Brown said.
Certainly, Brown explained, growing grapes couldn’t be much more difficult than growing apples.
“I thought it would be easier to grow grapes than apples,” he said.
The family planted the Vidal grape which produces white wine, a Noiret which gives red wine and the Jupiter grape which is edible. In total they have 200 vines spread over the two acres.
“It’s a big expense of financial commitment, but also time and labor,” said Christy Eckstein, executive director of Ohio Grape Industries. “Even if you don’t get grapes, you’re still in the vineyard every day.”
According to OGI, it costs between $10,000 and $20,000 per acre to plant grapes. This price does not include the land. What makes this expense a bitter drink to swallow is that it takes three to five years before the vine produces a harvest.
“Grapes are known to be, along with tobacco, one of the most labor-intensive crops,” Eckstein said. “It’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”
The family soon learned that grapes are not like other crops.
“The grapes are more like a newborn: you have to watch them all the time,” Brown said.
The family constantly visits the vineyard to prime, prune, weed, and fight disease and animals. The vineyard is more than a beautiful oasis; vines require real sweat equity.
They found early success just 15 months into the project.
“They’re completely covered in bunches of grapes,” Brown-Lewis said.
“Even other producers say, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,'” Brown added.
Most farmers would be delighted with early success. Instead, the family went to the hills in an effort to clear the fruit. The task seemed easy enough, except the vines were relentless.
“We tried to pull out most of the grapes this year because they don’t like them producing until the vines are ripe; we just couldn’t do it, there were so many,” Brown said. “Right now we’ll see how it goes, but I think Erin will be making wine this fall.”
This vineyard has never had the objective of creating a business. Instead, the family wanted to work to produce a crop together and grow closer.
“Every memory we have at this vineyard has been wonderful,” Brown-Lewis said. “We talk, we tell stories, we work together and I love it. There is something really special about being there and working with our family.
For Erin’s dad, the idea was a good one and turned into something he didn’t expect.
“I enjoyed it so much and the vineyard is different, maybe it’s more of a hobby for me than the apple orchard,” he said. “There’s a spiritual sense you get in the vineyard that I never had in the apple orchard. I can’t really explain it, but there’s something really peaceful about it.
Their plans are to make house wines and continue to enjoy their time together on the family farm. This farm spans five generations and has a history of growing fruit. Even though the apple trees were felled in 1993, the family farm continues to grow. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a new family business lurking around the hill for the family.
“A lot of our wineries are successful because they have that history,” Eckstein said of successful Ohio wineries. “These are first- and second-generation agribusinesses that are all very diverse. None are exactly the same.
For Brown, he sees a future for the family and other farmers in the community.
“This could be the start of another renaissance for Jackson County, but this time with viticulture,” he said.
As for Brown-Lewis, she focuses on legacy.
“I think the history of our farm is really great,” she said. “The fact that it goes back so many generations and is still in our family and cultivated.”
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