Mansfield Frazier is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Six years ago, from his home across the street, he tired of looking at an abandoned eyesore of a property where the only things which grew were the weeds and the trash passersby dropped.
Frazier complained to Cleveland City Hall about the property and someone told him if he could do something better with it, to try. Although he did not and does not own the property, he planted a vineyard.
"I wanted to create something green, reuse the land, but most importantly, I wanted to create jobs," said Frazier. "So we chose grapes."
Among the workers who labor in the vineyard are former prisoners. Frazier understands the plights of many of them. He is a former prisoner who served time for counterfeiting credit cards.
"I turned prison into my university," said Frazier, who is also a popular radio talk show host on WTAM in Cleveland and a successful businessman.
The jobs he offers to formers prisoners willing to work provide pathways for them back into society. He feels when they work in the soil and tend the grapevines, they realize the importance of working with nature and helping create something which did not exist before. It has been six years for the Vineyards of Chateau Hough and the 300 grapevines are ready for harvesting and the juice squeezed from the fruit will be made into wine.
Frazier reflects back on the work he and others put into the field of weeds, turning them into a money-making three-quarters of an acre. The grapes, half Traminette whites and Frontenac reds, will produce an estimated 700 bottles of wine this season.
At the intersection of Hough Avenue and East 66th Street, the Vineyards of Chateau Hough grow in the sun-splashed air. There are no fences around the grapevines.
"I don't have fences," said Frazier as he walked among the growth heavy with white and red grapes. "You should never fence yourself off from your neighbors."
There is no trash among the vines and there is no graffiti. The vineyard is hailed as an important part of the Hough neighborhood. Fifty years ago, there were dozens of fires. Hough was in a riot. Racial tensions in 1966 had reached so boiling a point in Cleveland that parts of the inner-city erupted into riot. Much of the neighborhood was either destroyed my the riots themselves or the aftermath which brought on neglect, flight of the middle class, and abandonment.
In the last two decades, Hough has slowly begun to rise. The late councilwoman who represented the area several years ago spoke on the new housing which had begun in the neighborhood. "After the riots, Hough had nowhere to go but up," said Fannie Lewis.
Frazier has taken that thought to heart and with the help of vineyard and wine consultants brought something special to the neighborhood. From his home across the street from the vineyard, he looks out at what has been accomplished.
The soil is good in Hough. The area is a mile-and-a-half from Lake Erie, the same distance of many other vineyards well outside of Cleveland which are situated along the great lake.
"We can do the same thing as any other vineyard," said Frazier. "What you need is good weather and good soil," he added, flashing a broad smile as he walked among the grapevines.
And good people who believe that the growth of a grapevine or a community begins at ground-level.
"You don't have to move to live in a better neighborhood," said Frazier. "Just take the land and find ways to renew it and make your own community better," he said.
In the Vineyards of Chateau Hough, the grapes are near ready to give of their juice in the steps toward the making of wine.
As Frazier said of both the vineyard and the community, "Chateau Hough has a tremendous amount of cache."