Touring Chateau Hough Vineyards and BioCellar

By Elaine Cicora
Photos by Shara Bohach

Nearly 20 Dames and guests paid a July 14 visit to Chateau Hough, the ambitious urban-agriculture project of journalist and community activist Mansfield Frazier.

Settled at the intersection of East 66th and Hough, the reclaimed property is home to nearly 300 vines growing red and white grapes. Planted in 2010, the vines were specially selected for their ability to withstand cold Ohio winters; and if the bounty of beautiful bunches hanging from the vines is any indication, they have surely acclimated to their Northern home.

Our gracious and gregarious host told us that his first wines (supplemented by grapes from other vineyards) were bottled in 2013, and earned praise from Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine as well as snagging a second-place ribbon in the Great Geauga County Fair. While the wine is currently made off site, plans call for eventually transforming a nearby abandoned building into a working winery. We enjoyed samples of both the red and white wines. As Mr. Frazier joked, “No wine snobs allowed! It’s all so subjective, just drink what you like!”

We also got a tour of the one-room biocellar, a beautifully constructed, below-grade space built on the foundation of an abandoned home. The first of its kind in Ohio, the biocellar uses passive solar heating to maintain a steady year ‘round temperature; the addition of a rain garden and water-recycling system keeps large quantities of runoff out of the city sewers. Although plans originally called for growing mushrooms in the biocellar, Mr. Frazier says that tests have shown the space is too airtight, and that mushroom spores in the air could create health hazards. Currently tests are underway to determine what crops can be safely grown in the space.

As impressive as all of this is, the real story, we learned, is that Chateau Hough is a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve the economic health of the neighborhood. Mr. Frazier’s goals are to foster urban food production; employ local residents with disadvantaged backgrounds; and re-purpose vacant homes and idle urban lots to create wealth-building opportunities. As the venture begins to make money, Mr. Frazier hopes to turn the property into a cooperative, turning over ownership of the facilities to the workers. Meantime, vineyard construction and maintenance, along with various learning programs, has provided work for many neighborhood residents.

Following the tour and discussion, most of the membership headed to Li Wah for dinner. The food, the service and the fellowship was wonderful, and another fine Les Dames event was enjoyed by all present.