Monte Cassino Vineyard, nestled on a gorgeous hillside in Covington, Kentucky, is history restored to life. The vines, only three years old, will be experiencing their first year to maturity in 2010, but this is not the first time there has been a vineyard on this hillside…
Mark and Heather Schmidt, the owners of the vineyard, have taken great care to dig up the history on their Covington property. Long story short, after purchasing their Covington home built in 1830 on 7 acres of land, they soon found out the land had a very well documented history.
Monte Cassino’s History
The house was built for Rev Kuhr, first pastor of mother of God Church, and is adjacent to a monastery, home to Benedictine monks. Not just any monks, but monks of the wine-making variety. These particular monks grew Concord and Norton varietal grapes. The monks built, by hand, stone retaining walls (remember this is in the 1800′s) on the hillside where they grew their grapes. The monks called this particular hillside vineyard, Monte Cassino after the original Benedictine Monastery in Italy.
For the German monks, they knew this was a great place for their vineyard. Being on a south-facing hillside, the walls soak up the heat of the day (which helps the grapes from getting cold at night) and the breeze that comes down the hillside keeps them dry – ideal conditions for grape growing.
Monte Cassino’s Revival
In honor of the German heritage of the monks, the Schmidt’s decided to keep the vineyard’s name and plant a German grape. I should back up and let you know that before any grape vine was planted, a lot of work had to be done.
The Schmidt’s cleared 2 acres of land on a hillside that had been taken over by dense forest. They made sure that when the trees were being cleared that great care be taken as to not disturb the retaining walls. The hand-built retaining walls remain today, even after the clearing of the trees. I’ve seen the wall firsthand, it is very impressive workmanship.
This German grape I mentioned earlier is called “Dornfelder”, it is the only varietal they will be growing in the vineyard. Dornfelder, invented in 1954, is the fastest growing, planted grape in Germany. It is a red skinned, red “meat” grape (i.e. the inside and outside of the grape is entirely red).
Because the grapes are red, they will be a magnet for hungry birds. Green grapes are mostly invisible to birds, not needing to be covered, but their red grapes will have to be netted carefully to keep birds out. The photos I took earlier in the spring show the young green grapes, in July, the grapes will begin turning red.
As I mentioned earlier, their Dornfelder vines are 3 years old. The vines originally came from a greenhouse in New York, all 475 of them. The 475 vines are growing on 300 trellis posts drilled in by hand. By hand, because it is not an easy task to get up to the hillside, so this meant a lot of work for the Schmidt’s and the crew helping with their vineyard.
Mark and Heather drove me up the hillside in an utility vehicle that handled the muddy trail just fine, but much larger equipment could not be expected to traverse the same path. That is why most all of the work done at the vineyard is by hand, not machine, but this adds to the vineyard’s endearing charm.
The Best is Yet to Come
In autumn of this year, the vineyard will experience its first grape harvest. The Schmidt’s plan to bottle and sell the wine from their grapes in the future, with the Monte Cassino label.
A big thank you to Mark and Heather for the chance to experience an evening in their vineyard!