A new vineyard popped up over the weekend in Davenport, reviving a piece of the past on the city’s west side.
Behind John Peragine’s home on Clay Street, a one-man crew from California installed a trellis and irrigation system last week to support 138 grape vines — a small operation compared to what grew there 150 years ago.
“We knew the history of the winery the day we stepped foot on this property,” said Kate Schantz-Peragine, whose mother, Quad-City historian Regina Schantz, told the couple about the land.
In 1870, the Clifton Vineyard grew 6,000 grape vines that produced 2,000 gallons of wine, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture records. George L’oste Davenport, son of Col. George Davenport, for whom the city is named, owned the grounds.
Today, the 165-year-old Clifton home still stands. It is directly west of the Peragine’s property in the Riverview Terrace Historic District, which overlooks the Mississippi River.
Peragine has made wine before, but he never has grown his own grapes, and he definitely didn't think he would be doing so just two years after buying his house.
When he met his friends from the West Coast last summer, however, wine-making became a new priority.
Peragine struck a deal with George Walker, operator of Mountain Vista Winery & Vineyards in Rancho Cucamonga, California, about 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
Already an author, Peragine wrote a book with Walker about the legendary wine-producing region. In exchange, Walker agreed to send someone from his family nearly 2,000 miles to build a vineyard in Peragine’s backyard in Iowa.
Published by The History Press, their book, "Cucamonga Valley Wine: The Lost Empire of American Winemaking," will hit the shelves in September.
Meanwhile, Walker's 21-year-old son, Clayton Walker, arrived May 21 and finished planting on Sunday. Despite his age, Clayton Walker also is regarded an expert in the field.
After a year of college, the younger Walker dropped out to help his dad run My Home Vineyard, which he then took over. Over the past decade, the family has designed, installed and planted more than 300 vineyards in Southern California.
Although the Peragines have only three-quarters of an acre in their terraced backyard, Walker planted 12 rows of vines, including 120 vines for wine production and 18 for table grapes.
During a break from work last week, he called his trip to Iowa “one of the coolest experiences” of his life.
“It's funny how things work out," Walker said. "Traveling to build vineyards is a dream of mine.”
He created quite a buzz during his short stay and even was invited to the office of Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch, who was curious about the project.
Without the book deal between Peragine and his dad, the Californian said he would charge about $15,000 for a job like it, but he stressed vineyards come in all sizes.
Eventually, the grapes pay for themselves, he said, labeling the fruit a "luxurious" commodity.
If he ever comes back to build more vineyards here, Walker, who raved about the quality of the Davenport soil, said he will bring extra helpers.
Different state, different grapes
The grapes Peragine has in his backyard do not match the French hybrids frequently grown in California, such as cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir or chardonnay. Those varieties wouldn't perform well in the Midwest.
Instead, he ordered three cold-hardy grape varieties from a distributor in New York:
• Catawba (red).
• La crescent (white).
• Marquette (red).
The grapes, which vary in sweetness, will mature in about two years, said Walker, who added that each vine will produce about two bottles of wine.
During that time, the vines must be protected from mold, mildew and insects.
Peragine, 47, said he plans to commission a winery in the area to crush his grapes, but he'll handle the fermentation and bottling process at home.
The father of three, who is "constantly writing," views the experiment as a break from his day job.
"It's an excuse not to be in front of the computer all day," he said. "It's just a fascinating process to me."
Peragine and his wife, Schantz-Peragine, want to learn the ins and outs of their new venture before launching a commercial operation. Meanwhile, they figure they'll have no trouble giving away any extra bottles to family members and friends.
Looking back on recent events that produced the new fixture on their lot, coined The L'oste Vineyard, she just smiled.
"This has been a long time coming," she said. "We hope that what we’re doing improves property values and improves the neighborhood, especially since we're bringing back some of the history of the hill and the west side."