Monday, 25 February 2008

Of vines and wines

One of the joys of the internet is coming across fellow gamers and enthusiasts from other parts of the world. Even better is when one meets such people who also happen to make excellent terrain. A few weeks ago Ochoin, Scottish ex-pat and Napoleonic guru, drew my attention to a couple of lads in South Australia (which happens to be one of my favourite parts of the world) who make trees and hedges. Mark and Barry run a company called Murray Bridge Trees & Terrain and can be found at their website here , which I have also added to the links section. Mark works on trees whilst Barry makes hedges, fencing and other items. The hedges are very nice but it was Barry's vines that caught my attention, not least because I'd never before seen anyone make grape vines in 25mm (or any scale for that matter). Given that my passion for AWI wargaming is matched only by my love of wine, and that one day the Kiwi and I hope to leave the rat-race and set up a winery somewhere near Martinborough or the Hawke's Bay, I knew I had to buy some of these model vines - after all, it might be the closest I ever get to owning my own vineyard....

My initial enthusiasm was curbed only by doubt as to whether anyone in 18th century New England actually made wine. I wasn't thinking of moonshine distilleries in the back of someone's barn but the cultivation of the vine for serious winemaking. In short, to justify the purchase I needed to convince myself that somewhere in 1770s Massachusetts existed the equivalent of Robert Mondavi or Screaming Eagle. Again, the internet is a wonderful thing and within no time I had found enough references to suggest that colonial America had more in common with the centre of Doncaster on a Saturday night than one might think. They made wine all over the place. American's first "native" grape was discovered just outside Philadelphia, where William Penn's gardener had apparently planted some cuttings. Called "the Alexander grape" after its discoverer (who was the gardener of William's Penn's son), this variety probably had its origins in the vines that Penn brought over from England. Unfortunately the wine made from the Alexander grape quickly "lost its colour and flavour", according to Maryland's governor, Horatio Sharpe. No doubt Robert Parker would have loved it.
Apparently an English colonel made wine near the banks of the Mississippi and actually sent some "Louisiana Claret" to King George in 1775; unfortunately the enterprising colonel and his family were shortly afterwards massacred by indians. Vineyards prospered in Maryland - a Charles Carroll planted a vineyard in Howard County in 1770 with four sorts of vines that he called "Rhenish, Virginia grape, Claret and Burgundy". It also seems that German immigrants, missing their native white wines, quickly began cultivating various varieties of grape. In 1773 lottery tickets were even sold in support of a "public vineyard" in Philadephia. By the end of the decade making wine was almost as popular as shooting redcoats.

So it seems that winemaking took place across several of the colonies, and in the places where armies would have marched in the AWI. Barry made me a whole load of vines and very impressive they are. He also made me some hedges and fencing and I was very pleased with those as well. As you can see from the photo below, the fencing is just the right height for 25mm figures to fire over. The relatively cheap cost means that even with the shipping costs from Australia to England the stuff is a good buy. Needless to say, I'm very impressed with Barry's and Mark's work; Barry is also a pleasure to deal with and sent me several update photos to show me how the order was progressing. So if you've ever wanted your own vineyard, now's your chance!

I'll sign off with the words of Benjamin Franklin: "God loves to see us happy, and therefore He gave us wine."


johnpreece said...

What a delightful post, I loved the vines.

I think once you start thinking at this levelyou are beyond the mundane levels of a wargame army and into the joys of a true collection. Well done.

(Of course it is now only a short step to a full blown obsession and all the unpleasantness of drugs, treatment etc. Still a risk well worth taking.)


legatus hedlius said...

Ah, but what variety are they?

Lovely post this one!

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Giles - just a word of congratulation on your appearance in Battlegames this month - it was good article, but made considerably better by the presence of your little guys... :o)