Connected \\ January 29, 2020

Celebrating a visionary Salem winemaker

Salem may be celebrated for its seafaring entrepreneurs who traveled the globe. But grape grower/master winemaker J. Stephen Casscles wants people to be familiar with the contributions of one of the city’s lower-profile, yet equally ambitious, pioneers.

Born in 1826, Edward Staniford Rogers was a descendant of Reverend John Rogers, the former president of Harvard College. He lived on Essex Street where he developed grape hybrids behind his Colonial Revival home.

In 1851, Rogers crossed a Native American vine with two European wine grapes to create a new variety. This kind of experimentation helped to nurture an interest in viticulture, or winegrowing, in America.

Small photographs on a table
Salem’s Edward Staniford Rogers served as an inspiration to modern-day winemaker J. Stephen Casscles. Photos by Dan Lipcan.
A letter on a table
Salem’s Edward Staniford Rogers served as an inspiration to modern-day winemaker J. Stephen Casscles. Photos by Dan Lipcan.

Today, Casscles grows the grape hybrids developed by Rogers on his small vineyard in New York. He says the grapes produce a soft, approachable muscat (a popular dessert wine), and this year’s crop resulted in six cases.

During this year’s Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival, Casscles and Dan Lipcan, PEM’s Phillips Library Head Librarian, will give a talk at the Cotting-Smith Assembly House about the city’s role in developing heirloom grape varieties.

Steven crushing grapes with his feet
Stephen Casscles stomping and showing off the grapes on his farm in New York. Courtesy images.
Steven standing in a field
Stephen Casscles stomping and showing off the grapes on his farm in New York. Courtesy images.
Steven standing in a vineyard
Stephen Casscles stomping and showing off the grapes on his farm in New York. Courtesy images.

On his 12-acre farm in Athens, New York, Casscles cultivates more than 100 different French-American hybrids, as well as 19th-century heirloom grape varieties.

“I like the idea of heirloom grapes because our weather is becoming warmer, with more rain, more violent storms and wider swings in temperature,” says Casscles, a descendant of generations of fruit growers. “I want to grow grapes that can take the body blows that our climate is now dishing out.”

Casscles wrote the 2015 book Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada, and plans to add a chapter on the Rogers hybrids and other New England grapes based on his research conducted at the Phillips Library.

A member of the prominent East India Marine Society, Rogers left his family papers as well as his horticulture order book to PEM’s Phillips Library. These materials offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who worked the land in a city better known for its shipping trade.

Pages from Old Salem Gardens by The Salem Garden Club, 1946.
Pages from Old Salem Gardens by The Salem Garden Club, 1946. Phillips Library Collection, Peabody Essex Museum.
Pages from Old Salem Gardens by The Salem Garden Club, 1946.
Pages from Old Salem Gardens by The Salem Garden Club, 1946. Phillips Library Collection, Peabody Essex Museum.
Heirloom Grapes

“I think this is a perfect example of what makes our collections so exciting,” says Lipcan. “What you might think is ‘merely’ a shipping collection turns out to have a thread that is significant to viticulture in our region, one still relevant today.”

SPECIAL PROGRAM:

This event is sold out.

Salem’s Heirloom Grapes Sunday, February 9 | 4 pm at PEM’s Cotting-Smith Assembly House, 139 Federal Street. A limited number of $20 tickets available at pem.org/winemaker. Hear about Salem’s 19th-century grape breeders and horticulturalists with grape grower and winemaker J. Stephen Casscles and PEM’s Head Librarian Dan Lipcan. A tasting of wines will be served!

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