From off the streets of Cleveland comes . . . Château Hough
October 9, 2014 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Château Hough is a "microappellation" vinyard and winery that occupies three ¼ acre city lots in Cleveland's inner city Hough neighborhood. . . . a confluence of social empowerment and environmental stewardship goals, more than just growing grapes.
We have a strong, razor-sharp purpose. . . . That purpose, all along, has been to employ the formerly incarcerated, teach youth viticulture, and create more economic opportunity in a neighborhood that doesn't have enough.
-- founder Mansfield Frazier
In operation only since 2010, Château Hough has taken 2nd prize at the Great Geauga County Fair for its Traminette white wine. There's a lot of domestic wines available nowadays . . .
but none have a story like ours: Inner-city, award-winning wines made by dudes fresh out of prison. Let me see anyone top that shit.”

In 1966, the Hough neighborhood was the scene of Cleveland's race riots, which left four dead and the city burning. For decades, the neighborhood was in decline. The area still has high crime and an average income well below the poverty line.

Mansfield Frazier, self-educated Cleveland native and former convict is the visionary behind Château Hough.

Not long after the riots, already frustrated by the racism and lack of opportunity on the job, [“They would never promote me. They wanted me to train other guys less qualified, to promote past me. And it got very aggravating after a while. I was about to go postal.”] Frazier embarked on a long career counterfeiting credit cards, followed by a stretch in prison. There he began a writing career with the book From Behind the Wall (1998). He continued to write after his release, but wanted to do something more tangible; to help “recreate the black middle class”.

Why try to make wine in Hough?
Hough is the community I reside in. The vineyard is across the street from my home. My wife and I decided to build our home in Hough in order to be part of the urban pioneer movement. We wanted to be in the forefront of the movement to re-establish the black middle class in Cleveland.
And since banks are once again being allowed to redline inner cities, using vacant lots to create wealth by establishing vigorous and profit-making urban agriculture projects just seemed to make sense.
But why wine?
Wine grapes have a high dollar yield per acre: Frazier estimates that each of his 289 vines could generate ten $10 bottles of wine per year: You can’t get that off of bell peppers!
Frazier encourages other urban farmers to consider the multiple layers of non- and for-profit that can be tied together in one place. . . But admitted there's no future to urban farming if it doesn't create wealth.
If you aren't doing this to make money, don't do it. . . . This isn't going to work long term with volunteers. You have to make this a paying job. For me, it became, "how do you take (vacant) land and create wealth?"
Biocellar project
Adjacent to the vinyard there once stood an abandoned house which has since been demolished to create a biocellar, an extension of the pit greenhouse concept. At depths of four feet, temperatures stay a constant 50 to 55F year-round. First they’ll be testing some high-value crops like shitake mushrooms and strawberries.

Why shiitake mushrooms? They sell for $20 a pound.

Why “Château Hough”?
The name is political. If we’d called it Château Westlake or Château Solon nobody’d've raised an eyebrow. Call it Château Hough and people do a double-take. What we’re saying is that the land we occupy in Hough is just as valuable to us as the land Hunting Valley* people occupy.
Video If you do nothing else about this post, watch this video. Fraziers’s Tedx talk is only 16 minutes long, informative, entertaining, inspiring, and not a second is wasted. (I say this as an editor with zero patience for flabby writing and presentations.)

*Hough is an inner city Cleveland neighborhood, median income $13,630, 96.1% black (2000 census). Hunting Valley, about fifteen miles away, is the wealthiest community in the state of Ohio and sixth wealthiest in the United States, with an median household income over $200,000, 99.05% white (2000 census).
posted by Herodios (32 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
This is awesome and I wish them the best of luck with navigating their way to sales and additional projects like the mushroom crops.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:35 PM on October 9, 2014

We have a pretty robust foodie community in c-town. I could see this taking off. In theory, it's a vibrant community gardening community, but it strikes me as very top-down and engineered by city agencies and nonprofs as opposed to, say, NYC, which is much more bottom-up and driven by guerilla gardeners.
posted by jpe at 3:40 PM on October 9, 2014

Outstanding post. Many thanks.
posted by No Robots at 3:48 PM on October 9, 2014

Oh, definitely watch the Ted talk. It's like an adorable dad with his clipart PowerPoint, but really informative and compelling.
posted by padraigin at 3:52 PM on October 9, 2014

This reminds me of Homeboy Industries in LA: We don't hire homies to bake bread. We bake bread to hire homies." (Yes, it's been on MeFi previously. I just haven't found it yet.)
posted by dfm500 at 3:55 PM on October 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

Homeboy industries on the blue. Homeboy's website (link in old blue article dead).
posted by el io at 3:59 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like the project but 240 cases of $10 wine isn't anywhere near a viable business.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:03 PM on October 9, 2014

Wish the stuff was for sale, but I love this idea in principle. Wine might definitely be a bit tricky for local production by urban groups on a wider scale, but I'd like to see people fundamentally getting used to this idea that those of us who live in poor neighborhoods can produce things of value. I think part of the trouble in getting funding for stuff comes from the more affluent thinking of places like where I live as just--trash heaps. Junkyards. We are the refuse. The idea that people who live in poverty would like to contribute things to the world just as much as anybody else but don't know how or don't feel they have the opportunity seems to not cross anybody's mind--or at least not the minds of the conservative voters of Ohio.

Not that I think anybody should HAVE to be economically productive in order to earn a safe place to sleep at night and three square meals a day or whatever, but it's like they think that whole Maslow thing only applies to middle-class-or-better white people and that the rest of us can't imagine wanting to do anything remarkable. I'd love for it to be more bottom-up, but it's taken a lot of encouragement in my life and a long time personally to believe such a thing was even vaguely possible. Gardening might not be my thing, but it'll be somebody's, and it's an example we need.
posted by Sequence at 4:03 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've driven a million times on Chester exactly one block away from this and had no idea it was there. I suspect that even if I had seen it, I would not have believed it was an actual vineyard in the middle of Cleveland.
posted by kiltedtaco at 4:12 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This guy's attitude toward the project is so important. Community gardens are fine, but this, to me, is the best case scenario for the future- relocalization of serious food production. I don't think it's going to remain viable forever to buy our cheap wine from across the globe.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:36 PM on October 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's either gonna get destroyed by vandalism or bought up and torn down to make townhouses by the Clinic. Maybe both.
posted by holybagel at 4:42 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

After winning their first award 2014:
"It's a validation that opens other doors," he added. "When we start to sell the wine, we can charge a higher price..."
This microappellation is the brainchild of 69-year-old Mansfield Frazier, who claims no enological expertise besides enthusiam.
Thank you for the palate cleansing post!
posted by Emor at 4:45 PM on October 9, 2014

This is a very cool idea and a great post. Thanks!
posted by fraxil at 4:55 PM on October 9, 2014

I like the project but 240 cases of $10 wine isn't anywhere near a viable business.

Pullquote says that the guy expects 10 cases of $10 wine from each of his 289 vines. By my math, that's $28,900. Not a fortune, but a lot more revenue than he'd probably make from the same acreage with, say, tomatoes.
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:13 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Or bell peppers.
posted by carping demon at 5:49 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is why I love MetaFilter. Thanks!
posted by slidell at 6:01 PM on October 9, 2014

'Nuff respect. This should sell for well more than $10/bottle.
posted by lalochezia at 6:26 PM on October 9, 2014

"10 cases of $10 wine from each of his 289 vines. By my math, that's $28,900."
Cases have 6 bottles so if that reading is correct (10 cases of 6 bottles per vine) it would be:
289 vines * 10 cases * 6 bottles * $10 = $173,400
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:26 PM on October 9, 2014

Some Google searching shows that output is too variable to make a reliable per vine calculation but examples I spotted suggest around 3-4 bottles per vine which would work out to:

289 vines * 3.5 bottles * $10 = $10,115
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:31 PM on October 9, 2014

Wait, don't cases have 12 bottles?
posted by padraigin at 6:31 PM on October 9, 2014

I'm trying to imagine how a tasting of a Cleveland wine would go... "A heady bouquet, reminiscent of gasoline and Drew Carey's sweat...mmm...a bit of a bitter finish almost like the tears of Brown's fans..."
posted by MikeMc at 6:53 PM on October 9, 2014

OP here. In editing down this post, I accidentally buried this interesting video from KQED's Quest program. (There is an easily missable link under Biocellar. ) The video gives little more background on the community and a lot more visuals on concept and contruction of the biocellar.

Also: A standard case of wine contains twelve 750 ml bottles, making in all 9 liters.
posted by Herodios at 6:54 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, yeah, you're right. I guess the 6 bottle ones are half cases or something.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:54 PM on October 9, 2014

According to this page 12 bottle wine crates are most common for Bourdeaux wines and 6 bottle crates are most common for Italian, Spanish and California wines.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:57 PM on October 9, 2014

Also, apparently there is an entire blog dedicated to only wine crates.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:58 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pullquote says that the guy expects 10 cases of $10 wine from each of his 289 vines. By my math, that's $28,900.

You are misreading bottle for case. He claims 10 bottles of wine at $10/ea from each vine. A case is 12 bottles, so they are looking at about 240 cases. The rule of thumb I've been told many times is that it takes a production of about 2000 cases for a winery to be a serious, viable business (as compared to the countless hobby/lifestyle wineries out there that don't necessarily lose money, but don't have the production to be a sustainable enterprise), and that's assuming bottle prices more like $30/ea or higher. That $29k is before any costs and after a long lead time -- you don't plant a vine and make wine that same year.

And his production numbers are optimistic -- Napa numbers (which are the easiest to find) are about 5-6 bottles/vine and in some years much lower, more like 1-2 bottles/vine. And that's in California weather and for established vines.

Again, I think it's a great thing to be doing, but I doubt it's remotely viable economically.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:11 PM on October 9, 2014

"It's either gonna get destroyed by vandalism or bought up and torn down to make townhouses by the Clinic. Maybe both."

I found that comment pretty offensive. I think it's because I perceived the comment to dismiss the idea that viable businesses can be created in the urban environment - because street thugs will fuck it up.

Maybe it wasn't meant to read this way, but it certainly read pretty ugly to me.
posted by el io at 11:18 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Again, I think it's a great thing to be doing, but I doubt it's remotely viable economically.

That would be assuming that he's thinking "I plan to park squarely at my current level of success and not attempt to develop this business any further."
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:14 AM on October 10, 2014

Most wineries don't grow their own grapes. In fact, a lot of very highly regarded wineries don't even make their own wine -- there are plenty of larger wineries with extra capacity who will make your wine on contract, bottling is done by the mobile bottling operation, etc. So there's totally a path from where they are to making the winery viable, but it isn't going to come from 3/4 of an acre of grapes. I hope that infrastructure exists where they are, because they have a great approach and if the wine is good they could sell a lot of it.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:53 AM on October 10, 2014

I thought it seemed like there was a strong connection (advice, facilities, training) between the established local wine place and Chateau Hough. Like many other nonprofits and green endeavors, this one seems to rely heavily on volunteers and the community for support. I also think that's why he wanted to expand the number of pocket lots involved to make it more sustainable (and to transform more of the neighborhood.) I don't think the statement is necessarily "we will make lots of money" so much as "everyone thinks this land is valueless but look what we've produced."
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:55 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chateau Hough is not the only commercial vineyard located in an inner-city neighborhood.

Midwest Winepress: Urban Vineyards Sprouting in the Midwest
Gomer’s of Missouri, a wine and spirits store in Kansas City, won a Jefferson Cup for a wine made from grapes grown on the side of a store in a strip mall.
We have three distinct vineyard sites at our retail locations. One of the sites has 18 vines and we call it “Sonic View” because it’s next to the Sonic fast food restaurant. . . . Growing vines in a strip mall has its advantages, like automated sprinklers and no grape eating deer.
Joe Henke of Henke Winery in Cincinnati also has about 50 vines outside his winery in Cincinnati, but his vines are “more for the ambience.”
Viticulturist William H. Shoemaker, recently retired from University of Illinois remains involved with the University’s research vineyard on the fringe of the Chicago megalopolis. The first challenge, according to Shoemaker, is finding sufficient land in the city to grow grapes commercially. “Although it’s not unusual to find two or three suitable acres in an urban area,” he says.
No one has successfully started a vineyard in Chicago, but not for lack of trying. Before his death in March 2012, William Lavicka unsuccessfully fought the City of Chicago for approval to plant a small vineyard in a brownfield site on the South Side of Chicago.
Blake Kownacki, the winemaker for Michigan’s Cherry Creek and Sleeping Bear Wineries, wants to plant grapes on 10 acres of Belle Isle, the state-owned island park in Detroit . . . .
“I see Detroit as prime vineyard territory,” Kownacki says, “with its proximity to lakes and rivers, the soil, and a mediating climate it’s the perfect backdrop for vines.” Kownacki wants to . . . start a program to turn urban gardens throughout Detroit into mini-vineyards. He envisions city residents tending their vines and selling the grapes back to Kownacki, thus creating side incomes for urban families.
Shoemaker also addresses one of my concerns:
Vacant lots in residential neighborhoods usually pose no environmental or health hazards, but industrial sites could be a problem. The soil could be contaminated with heavy metals such as cadmium. In reclaiming that type of site for a vineyard, you would want to do an intensive soil analysis.
posted by Herodios at 10:04 AM on October 10, 2014

This is lovely to read! I'm sure I must have driven past this place without ever knowing it.
posted by faethverity at 1:42 PM on October 13, 2014

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