Never one to back down from a challenge, Mansfield Frazier’s Château Hough winemaking venture is about to take a major step forward.
CoolCleveland talked to its popular writer, who is also an urban activist, radio host and general manager of the vino operation, about the challenges associated with not only starting up a winery in Hough but also changing the neighborhood’s perception and helping out troubled youth.
CoolCleveland: Can you give us a brief history of Château Hough?
Mansfield Frazier: We put the vineyard in 2010, so we just finished our seventh growing season. Vines don’t produce grapes usually for the first three or four years. We’ve been making wine at another friend’s facility in Solon for the last three years. This year was the first year we converted a building that’s a biocellar into a winery.
CC: How did you end up in the winemaking venture?
MF: I just went through the list of what products have the highest value yield per acre. Some people said to do bell peppers, but there’s no money in bell peppers. We did wine because of the potential dollar yield. Our vineyard is three quarters of an acre. We have 310 plants that will create about 1,000 bottles of wine.
CC: What types of wine does Château Hough produce?
MF: A Traminette, which is a German grape, is white and is heading towards a Moscato in taste. We have a red grape, a Frontenac, that’s a kind of medium-body red. We selected those varieties because they’re cold-hardy. About three years ago we had a polar vortex, and the vines along the lake were frozen. European vinifera grapes can’t stand it much below zero. Our vines can take it up to 30 to 40 below zero.
CC: Part of your goal is to change the perception of the Hough Area. How will your winery achieve that?
MF: Most people when they think of Hough, they think of the riots that we call an uprising that occurred 50 years ago. There are hundreds of upscale homes here. Hough has changed, but perceptions haven’t. So this was about changing the perception. Wine has a lot of cache, but at its heart this is a reentry project. We wanted something we could employ young people and stabilize lives. We’re a 501(c)(3). To do that, you have to eventually start making money. They’re not going to keep funding you if you don’t have a pathway to financial success.
CC: How does the winery fit into your reentry project?
MF: We own a house that was built in 1879. We want to house young people coming out of juvenile incarceration that we employ at the vineyard. We know that if they go back to the neighborhoods that failed them, even if we give them a job, they’re going to probably slip through the cracks again. It’s very hard to stabilize if they’re back around familiar surroundings. So our goal is we can probably house 10 up to 12 youth at this big duplex we own.
CC: How close are you to making that dream a reality?
MF: A long way from it. We put on the crowdfunding amount at $25,000 but to rehab the house it’s going to take closer to $75,000. If you put that high of a figure, you shoot yourself in the foot. We’ll get it funded. Either it’ll sit there until we can fund it out of profits from wine sales or we get help from the foundations that have helped us to get this far. The venue itself was established with a federal grant. We get funding from the Cleveland Foundation and a couple of other sources.
CC: So you already have a tasting room at the winemaking facility?
MF: Yes, but we don’t sell wine yet. Anybody can make up to 200 gallons of wine in their basement. What we’ve done in the past, people donate to our nonprofit and we gift them with bottles of wine. There’s a license you have to get from the feds. We’ve obtained that. There’s a permit you have to get from the state. They said we passed the final inspection with flying colors. Somehow the paperwork got screwed up. So we should have our permit this week. We’re hoping we might be selling bottles of wine this holiday season if they give us that permit, but next year is when we would really hit our stride.
CC: Finally, in addition to changing the perception of Hough, do you feel like you’re also fighting the negative stigma attached to Ohio wines?
MF: We’re not fighting that battle. The fact is you’re not going to make wine as good here in the heartland as on the coast. Also, I’m thinking of putting a sign up saying “No wine snobs allowed,” because some people are snobs. We’re not making wine for the snobs. Once you get to a mid-range level of quality, people can’t tell good wines from bad wines. If it’s horrible, yes. But once you learn the craft of winemaking, it’s easier to make wine that’s not horrible.