Legends of the Chautauqua-Erie Grape Belt

NEWS RELEASE, November 28, 2023
Contact: 
Doug DeCroix, WNY Heritage, [email protected]g
Phil Baideme, Grape Discovery Center, [email protected]
 John Thomas Slater, [email protected]

Three Achievements in the Chautauqua-Erie Grape Belt: “Celebrate the past and look to the future.”
Westfield, NY – November 19th was a busy day at the Grape Discovery Center. Located in the heart of the world’s largest Concord grape-growing region, the Center played host to two celebrations—the release of a new and unique book about the region’s rich agricultural history and the tenth anniversary of the Grape Discovery Center itself, established by the Lake Erie Concord Grape Heritage Association in 2013. The book release also coincided with the completion of a project at the Darwin Barker Museum to digitize its grape belt archives.

Release of Legends of the Chautauqua-Erie Grape Belt
Over fifty individuals gathered to celebrate the publication of Legends of the Chautauqua-Erie Grape Belt, a new publication written by John Thomas Slater and published by Western New York Heritage.  Those present included representatives of the organizations that sponsored the book’s publication, as well as those who contributed to the decade-plus effort to amass the archival material upon which the book was based. In a brief formal program, Western New York Heritage Executive Director Douglas DeCroix and author John Thomas Slater discussed the evolution of the project and expressed their gratitude to the generous sponsors and archival contributors – local individuals, organizations, and institutions, whose support and efforts made this unique publication possible. “While the vision was mine and my name may be on the cover,” Slater observed, “this book was, in reality, a Lake Erie Grape Belt community effort, produced expressly for the Lake Erie Grape Belt community.”

                     

Pictured Above: A copy of Legends. Author John Thomas Slater speaking at the Grape Discovery Center.

Others invited to the event included the region’s farmers and wineries, as well as village and town representatives. The book was sponsored by Welch’s/National Grape Cooperative, Grower’s Cooperative Grape Juice Company, Community Bank, Farm Bureau, Lawley Insurance, Lake Erie Wine Country, the Western New York Foundation, and the Chautauqua County IDA. A question-and-answer session provided an opportunity for guests to ask questions of the author and publisher, while enjoying refreshments that included local wines and Concord grape desserts (prepared by Grape Discovery Center, Buttercream Babe Bakery, and Om Nohm Bakery). Guests were able to celebrate their collective history as well as to acknowledge the future of the grape and wine industry along the South Shore of Lake Erie. As John Thomas Slater noted, “It is my hope that the book and the stories it contains will serve to enhance a sense of pride in everyone in the region associated with viticulture.         

       

Pictured Above: Layout Designer for Legends, Laurie Wickett; Author John Thomas Slater; and Former Chautauqua County Historian, Michelle Henry

Darwin R. Barker Museum – Digitization of Grape Belt Archival Material
Two days prior, on Friday November 17, librarians and historians also gathered at the Darwin R. Barker Museum and Library in Fredonia to celebrate the book’s release.  As part of its mission to serve the community, Western New York Heritage presented a complimentary copy of Slater’s book to each library in attendance.  Significant, too, was the announcement by the Darwin R. Barker Museum Curator Maxwell Walters that the massive archive of material on the region’s history, upon which Slater’s book was largely based and which was donated to the Museum, has been digitized and will be accessible to the public, via the Barker Museum’s website.  “The release of the book, combined with the launch of the digital archive, brings the fractured history of the Chautauqua-Erie Grape Belt together,” observed Western New York Heritage Executive Director, Doug DeCroix, “and will provide students and the general public with significant—and accessible—resources for understanding the importance of this region and its farmers.”

Grape Discovery Center – 10th Anniversary
The Grape Discovery Center, manned by staff and volunteers from the region, was the natural location for the book release of Legends of the Chautauqua-Erie Grape Belt. President Phil Baideme observed that the Grape Discovery Center, now in its tenth year of operation, was honored to be the host facility for this exciting event.  John Thomas Slater, the aforementioned book’s author, was a member of the Grape Discovery Center’s formation committee and particularly involved with the exhibits in the Star Family Room.

From left: Phil Baideme, President, Grape Discovery Center; Author John Thomas Slater; Dennis Rak, President of National Grape Cooperative; and Doug DeCroix, Editor & Publisher of Western NY Heritage.

This year, the Grape Discovery Center, the official Visitor’s Center for the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt, is celebrating its tenth anniversary and is now welcoming over 7000 visitors annually.  The Center, with a gift shop, tasting room, and exhibit room, welcomes those wanting more information on the grape industry as well as those interested in classes, receptions, parties and other special area events.

The Concord Grape Belt is located along the southeastern shores of Lake Erie in Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania and is the largest and oldest Concord grape growing region in the world. The Concord grape is native to North America and was first selected and propagated from wild seedlings by Ephraim Bull in Concord, Massachusetts in 1849. It was brought to Western New York in the 1870’s where climate, geography, and soils proved to be very suitable to its production. The Grape Discovery Center (www.GrapeDiscoveryCenter.com) is open to the public year-round. Copies of the Legends of the Chautauqua-Lake Erie Grape Belt may be ordered from Western NY Heritage Magazine (online at www.wnyheritage.org). In addition, the book is currently being sold at the Grape Discovery Center and Johnson Estate Winery (both in Westfield, NY), Chautauqua Bookstore (Chautauqua), and the North East Grower’s Cooperative and Tia’s Book Cellar (both in North East, PA).

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New York Wine & Grape Foundation

New York Wine & Grape Foundation

The mission of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation is to promote the world-class image of New York grapes and wines from our diverse regions to responsibly benefit farmers, producers and consumers through innovative marketing, research, communication, and advocacy.