There we were, driving along I90 in upstate New York (waaay upstate) when Dad (who was enjoying his favorite driving pastime of reading every sign along the road) said, “Grape Discovery Center.”
Since neither of us had ever seen a discovered grape, we immediately got off the highway, drove passed miles of grape vines, waved to the Welch’s factory, and found ourselves at the Grape Discovery Center.
Not only do they have everything grape imaginable (Little frogs holding wine glasses? Check. Grape seed oil? Check. Water bottles shaped like a bunch of grapes? Check.) but they have grape juice to taste, wines to drink, and wine slushies to slurp. We sampled the Concord grape juice (too much driving still to do to sample anything alcoholic) and it was a-MAZ-ing. I’m not a grape juice fan particularly and I could have chugged a gallon of this. It was fresh, it was smooth, it was sweet, it was everything you want when you say yum.
There was a Learning Center in the facility and we wandered through (one of us wandered faster than the other), where we could learn about grapes and Welch’s.
Turns out, O Best Beloved, grape juice was created by religion. Let that bit of news seep in for a moment.
‘Tis true. Allow me to explain.
Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch was a dentist and Methodist. He was a teetotaler and knew that even a teeny sip of wine was highly problematic for alcoholics. But he felt strongly that everyone should be able to take communion.
He mulled. He considered. He contemplated. He cogitated. And then he invented grape juice.
You’d think it would be easy to a no brainer. Squeeze grapesà get grape juice. Well, my friend, you’d be only partially right. If you drink it right away, it’s juice. If you wait, the juice ferments into wine.
Dr. Welch followed Louis Pasteur’s lead and cooked his juice (in their bottles) to kill off all the yeasty, fermenty things.
Thrilled with his discovery, Dr. Welch grabbed up his bottles and went to church. Where they patted him on the head (figuratively speaking) and told him they weren’t interested (literally speaking).
Dr. Welch was pretty bummed and went back to polishing teeth free of all sorts of stains (except grape juice stains because no one was drinking his juice).
That might have been the end of the story, except that he had a Most Wonderful Son who figured out Many Wonderful Things like how to sell grape juice.
It takes about 2.4 pounds of grapes (between 600 and 800 grapes) to make a bottle of wine.
After many, many years of hard work, Welch’s became an overnight success and grape juice is now one of the most important non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages in the world. Right after caffeine free diet coke.
We had a lovely visit to the Grape Discovery Center. And it only took about 20 minutes to talk Dad out of trying to grow grape vines at home.