Incidents in the Early Settlement of Pulteney
Selections on Grape Growing
J. W. Prentiss
The Hammondsport Herald, November 25, 1876
In my last article on grape growing; type made me say, "over fifty-two loads of manure," they should have said over fifty two-horse loads. It makes half difference, and the difference is what makes effect.
There can be no objection to high cultivation—other things being equal—but we cannot have any good fruit of any kind when there is an overgrowth of wood. On that acre, we have been trying to describe, there were, after the twentieth of June on some mornings toadstools that would nearly cover the ground. It may be said that this vineyard was an exception in treatment; true it was, and it was an exception in producing sooner after planting, the grape "sickness."
Our first instructions in grape growing came from German authority, both from precept and example; our book instructions were German. Their manner of cultivation may be right in their country, yet I doubt it. I have never read an article on grape growing, that if followed, would (not) do more harm than good. Science is good if used as a bank of specie to fall back on, but facts obtained from practical demonstration are the currency that moves the agricultural world.
In our first experiments we used the two-pronged hoe too much; in the second, we used the plow and other labor saving machines, in the hands of unskilled hired help, greatly to the injury of the vines; we plow too deep and too close to the vines; we leave the roots bare too long after plowing, and we generally cultivate too late in the season. Late cultivation starts a new growth of wood and retards the ripening of the fruit.
When grape growing first commenced as a business in Pulteney, many came to me to learn how to grow grapes. What little I knew was learned by experience, and was easy told. But when Mr. Reisinger stepped on deck I had to retire to the hold. The grape business was soon learned. Our great men, Esquires, Doctors, Judges, in fact all were anxious to tell what they knew; but it has finally transpired that the more we learned the less we knew, and we are now prepared to learn what we should have done in the first place.
Owing to a partial crop this season, grapes are bringing fair prices in city markets, but when full crops are realized what shall we do with our grapes? is the question asked. The wine cellars will give no adequate price; the city markets are too low to warrant shipping, after taking our commission and freight. Grape boxes are now so cheap that they do not come in the bill of expense, for when sold they pay for themselves, and there is no excuse for not getting the best.
There is one thing we can and should do to better our condition; ship to markets none but the best fruit; better throw poor grapes into the lake; better still to raise none but the best fruit, put up in the best manner in the best packages; our grapes would always comand a paying price. Cheating in putting up grapes is like heaping the measure to send to mill, the miller sees the point and laughs in his sleeve at the stupid device.
We must learn to depend less on the wine cellars; they can do without us—we must learn to do without them. The man that takes his sample box of grapes to the wine cellar is only offering to give them away. Let the buyer come to the grapes and if you can not sell, no harm done; the buyer must place more confidence in the grower, and if misplaced he will give a wide berth next year; by this plan, fair dealing would be an object, and if we raise none but ripe grapes they can be made up at home; but we must not expect to make good wine of poor grapes. A neighbor of mine has made wine that was better worth three dollars a gallon than most of the doctored stuff at three shillings. Let us make wine that will improve for ten years at least, and what is loses in gallons will increase in value, four fold.
If we credit those who should know, we have champagne of the highest excellence; but while champagne is a matter of mechanical skill, wine making proper is an art not published in books or acquired by the novice. If we would drink a pure article of wine or brandy, we should expect to pay for it or doctored articles must suffice.