1866 Reserve Series - A Dedication to History & Terroir

Now Available: 2012 - 1866 Reserve Riesling

 

Available May 1, 2015:

2012 - 1866 Reserve Meritage
2013 - 1866 Reserve Gewurztraminer

 

At Bellangelo, we consider ourselves stewards of a property and a distinct location that has been growing grapes contiguously for for more than 150 years - since 1866.  In 1866, Dr. Byron Spence made the decision to plant some grapes on the sloping East side of Seneca Lake.  The following paragraphs are extracted from A Sense of Place, and discuss Dr. Spence's background:

 

Dr. Byron Spence
Turning our attention to the 1800's, Dr. Spence had became a renowned and respected man in the region.  As a young man, Dr. Spence went on to New York City where he earned his degree from New York University in 1850. He became a well-rounded classicist, an ideal citizen of his community. A physician, Civil War veteran, and farmer, his agricultural activities on the old family farmstead gravitated toward grape growing on the Eastern end of the property, at the shores of Seneca Lake, at what is today Villa Bellangelo.  He was active as a leader in the agricultural community, serving on the Board of the Agricultural Society in Yates County, and a name featured in the popular periodical of the time, “The Cultivator and Country Gentleman.”

 

Historian Stafford Cleveland wrote in 1870 about the development of the various vineyards in Yates County, particularly in Starkey, saying, “[t]he lands of Starkey in proximity to the Lake, have become noted for vine culture, and are probably excelled by few if any localities in the production of the fruits of our climate.”

 

Listing the names of the cultivators of grapes, Dr. Byron Spence ranked among the top viticulturists as measured by vines under acre, tied only by very few of his contemporaries in Yates County. Cleveland continued, addressing Dr. Spence as a cultivator of pears, peaches and other choice fruits. “Few localities in all our favored country are so rich as this town of Starkey in advantages of soil, climate, scenery and situation. Its abundant products find an easy and convenient market, and the fatness of the land has been well transmuted into wealth and easy conditions of life by its enterprising farmers.”

 

Dr. Spence’s community involvement was not restricted to agricultural activities.[vii] He was also a member of the Yates Medical Society.  The Yates Medical Society acted as a medical licensing board in its day, examining candidates who sought to practice medicine, and granting or denying them a license for such practice in the county.

 

Dr. Byron Spence died at the age of 59 on March 15, 1884. He was buried at the Hillside cemetery in Dundee, NY.  Dr. Spence had lived through and participated in an epic era of American wine history, as well as a classic land-boom in Yates County, particularly for parcels adjacent to the lake, where the grape growing slopes were deemed to be perfect locations for the vines.

 

Between 1865 and 1870, property that had held little value for other agricultural practices because of its sloping nature and dense forests, skyrocketed in value as grapes were cultivated and brought to market.  Land prices increased by factors of ten during this period, where acreage that had traditionally been valued at $25 per acre soared to $250 per acre.  By 1870, however, a surplus of fruit had reached the market, and grape prices had fallen to an average of three cents per pound.  Subsequently, the market for prized lakeside land collapsed, as well.

 

 Though Dr. Spence once cultivated dozens of acres under vine, today there remain only five solitary rows of these particular vines.  At its peak, the entire property was covered in acre upon acre of vines, mostly Concord, Isabella and Catawba.  Fortunately, despite the removal of nearly all of this rich viticultural heritage, the Missick family is seeking to preserve this history, care for what little remains of Dr. Spence’s grape growing legacy, and nurse the remaining gnarled vines back to health.