Recently we found ourselves in the far western part of New York State, and we came across a cool little facility called the Grape Discovery Center.
It’s a sort of museum/gift shop devoted to the Concord grapes that are grown in this area. There is a 60-mile lakeshore plain with glacial deposits of soil that are perfect for growing grapes. The combination of this special soil along with the moderating influence of Lake Erie on the climate, make this a perfect grape-growing area. They claim to be the “largest Concord grape-growing region in the world.” If you’ve ever enjoyed anything made by Welch’s (and who hasn’t?), then you’ve enjoyed the Concord grapes from this region.
I was amazed by how much there was to learn about grapes! They even had samples of that lovely, sweet, Concord grape juice they are so famous for. Most people in western NY know that we’ve become a force to be reckoned with in terms of our wines, but I doubt most people know that the dollar value of NY grape products produced and sold is about 9 times the dollar value of NY wines produced and sold.
One of the most fascinating discoveries came when I read this book by Mary Lou Carney. In it she tells the story of how Thomas Welch literally invented grape juice in the 19th century, here in western NY. Because of his Wesleyan commitments, he opposed the use of wine in communion. Unfortunately, grape juice tended to ferment on its own as a natural process. He had read about Louis Pasteur’s work with the process of Pasteurization and decided to try it on grape juice to preserve the juice and prevent the formation of alcohol. The rest is history, as they say.
We learned all about how grapes are grown, pruned, harvested, shipped, and made into dozens of different products. It was a fascinating hour and time well-spent. If you’re interested on visiting it, it is just outside the village of Westfield, NY.