Biographical, Historical, Fiction


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Johan Huffman was obsessed with viticulture. Grapes did not do well in the area of the Huffman farm. The valley of the Rhine River was ideal for growing grapes for white wines. Of the white wines produced in Germany, Riesling was the best. Especially the Johannesburg Riesling that was produced in the Rhine Valley.

Johan had a good friend whose family owned a vineyard in the area of Remagen. The wines that came from their vineyard were renowned throughout Europe as excellent or better. The family liked Johan and invited him to stay with them and learn the art of wine making. Johan spent four years with the family. He did whatever needed to be done to make excellent wine. He picked the grapes. He crushed the grapes. He maintained the vineyard and kept out the weeds and grasses. He bottled the wine. He tested the barrels to tell when it was ready to bottle. Johan learned everything he needed to learn to produce an excellent product.

Now Johan was ready to strike out on his own. He discussed his plans with his Father and his older brother. He knew he could not make wine in Germany. There were no vineyards or land for a vineyard available. Johan had looked at other countries in Europe and determined that either the climate was not right for a vineyard or there was no land available so he gave up the idea of staying in Europe. He settled on two places outside of Europe. One area he looked at was the Western Slope of the Andes Mountains in an area called Chile. The other area was the area of the Appalachian Mountains in America. After much research and discussion with knowledgeable people, he settled on America. There was an area that had a climate very close to the German climate where the best Riesling grapes were grown. This area was in New York State. He also felt that he would do better in America since almost all of the wines sold in America were brought from Europe. America was growing in population with many immigrants coming from Europe where wine was a staple of the diet.

Johan’s Father was not anxious to lose another son to a far away continent but understood the desire to strike out on their own so he supported them as best he could. Like Oskar and Friedrich, Johan was given a stipend to help in starting a new life.

Johan had studied maps and other data and determined that the Finger Lakes region of New York would be a good place for a vineyard. The temperatures in the summer were ideal for the grapes to mature and the winters were cold enough to allow the grape vines to go dormant. There was the proper amount of moisture to nourish the vines and grapes and enough summer sun to help the grapes to sugar. The majority of the people in America were close to where his winery would be so he would not have extravagant shipping costs. There were producers of wine bottles and labeling. It looked to be an ideal location for a start-up vineyard.

Johan made arrangements for some prime Riesling grape vines to be prepared and ready to ship as soon as he located the land and made the purchase. He traveled to Bremerhaven to get on a ship going to America. He made all the arrangements to immigrate with the American embassy in Berlin and was assured that he would have no problems. America was looking for people like Johan. They wanted people that would help the country grow and prosper.

Johan’s ship docked in New York City. Johan wasted no time in New York City. He made arrangements to get on a boat up the Hudson River and then onto the Erie Canal where he would go as far as Syracuse. This was the closest town to where he wanted to be. His first purchase in Syracuse was a team of horses and a wagon so he could transport his belongings. He headed south for the Finger Lakes. On arriving in the area he was delighted. The area was everything he had hoped it would be. He found lodging at an inn and started talking to people from the area. He kept hearing Seneca Lake so he thought that might be a good place to check. He got directions from the Innkeeper and started out. He arrived in the area and immediately knew that this was the place he had hoped to find. He found a land agent that knew of all the land that was for sale and they proceeded to look at a number of locations. At the fourth location, Johan knew this was the place he needed. There was 200 acres of sloping land and an ideal location for a home and the winery. Johan did not have enough money to buy the land and start the vineyard but the agent worked with the owner and made arrangements for Johan to pay off the land over a ten year period. Johan did not like to have the debt but had to have the land so the papers were signed.

Johan made arrangements for the Riesling cuttings to be shipped from Germany. While waiting for the vines to arrive, Johan, with some local help, built a modest house. He also worked at preparing the land for planting the vines as soon as they arrived as he did not want them to be out of the ground for an extended period.

The vines arrived in Syracuse. Johan went to Syracuse to get the vines but found that there was more than one wagon could hold. He did not want to make multiple trips so arranged with a freight hauler to help him bring them to his vineyard. In total, there were three wagons full of cuttings. Johan immediately went to work planting the vines. Since he had already prepared the ground, the work went fast. He did hire two local Mohawk Indians to help him with the planting. It would not be necessary to put in the posts and wires for the vines to grow on for several years. It would be four years before Johan would have his first usable crop.

The Mohawk Indians proved to be excellent and skilled workers. Johan thought that with them working he may as well get started on building the winery. The building went up quite fast but the crusher and the casks would be a different story. There were a lot of old growth oak trees on the property. Oak would be excellent for the crusher and the casks. Johan had learned to be a cooper when working at the winery in Remagen and he imparted that skill to his Mohawk workers. They were fast to pick up the skill and after only several months they had made thirty large aging barrels. It was well to make them early as it gave the oak time to age. They filled them with water to keep the seams tight. Now they only needed grape juice. The grape crusher was a little more complex to make so that it would efficiently get all the juice from the grape. With Johan’s skill they made an excellent crusher and they were now ready to make wine.

The next step was for Johan to make arrangements for bottles to put his wine in. He heard about a glass producer that made glass bottles. The producer was in Corning, New York. That was good as it would cut way down on the cost of shipping. They were also able to make arrangements for the bottle corks. The last thing that needed to be done was to have labels made. Before doing that, Johan had to come up with a name. This would prove to be a difficult task. Johan wanted to have a name that would say quality. He did not want something cute or trendy as he was going to be making wine for a long time and needed a name that would stand the test of time. He couldn’t come up with a name on his own so decided to seek outside help. He had heard of a company in Syracuse that specialized helping companies with advertising and promotion so he went to see them. The owner of the company was also a German immigrant and he was very enthusiastic about helping Johan get his business going. He put his best person on the project. The person was his daughter Helga. She gathered a group from the company to join her and Johan to come up with a name. A lot of names were thrown about but they finally came up with Johan’s Pride. Helga also took on the job of designing the label so it would scream QUALITY! Johan was very impressed with the job that the company did to help him. He was also impressed with Helga and her creative and fertile mind.

The first grape crop was in and it appeared to have all of the qualities necessary for a high quality Johannesburg Riesling. The juice was put in fifteen of the barrels to start fermenting. Johan decided they needed an additional fifteen barrels and made them. The wine was progressing well and Johan could anticipate a very good wine.

When the wine was ready, it was bottled and packed. The first case went to Helga and her team. Johan had forgotten one thing about being in the wine business and that was that he needed customers. Fortunately for the winery, Helga had not forgotten. She made arrangement for an agent company to market the wine. The agents had already been working and had orders for shipments as soon as the packaging was finished. Helga was a blessing and Johan soon recognized that she would be someone that could help his business grow if she was working on the project full time. That would only happen if she was his wife and that was not an unpleasant prospect for either of them. Helga’s Father was not happy about losing her in his business but he knew that Johan would be an excellent husband and wanted his daughter to be happy. The wedding took place. Johan’s brother Oskar came for the wedding as did his Father. It was a happy affair.

The crop the next year was better than the previous year and in succeeding years the crop was better each year. Johan soon had over one hundred aging barrels and had six employees, all Germans that had worked in vineyards and wineries in Germany. They were soon hailed as the producer of the best Riesling in America.

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