On June 25th, I attended a ceremony at Welch’s company headquarters in Concord, MA with fellow bloggers Jane Doiron and Kimberly Shipley. Welch’s teamed up with Food Network star Alton Brown to dedicate a new vineyard grown from cuttings of the original Concord grapevine that was cultivated 160 years ago.
It all started in mid 19th century, in the 1850ies to be exact, when Ephraim Wales Bull set out to develop a grape that would thrive in the harsh climate and soil of the Northeast. This photograph of Mr. Bull, pictured in 1856 with his Concord grape creation, was on display near the podium in front of the vineyard.
Sitting in the front row at the ceremony was Susan Hines. Mrs. Hines is the great, great, great granddaughter of Ephraim Wales Bull. She appeared to be quite happy and honored to be present at the ceremony.
Mr. Bull’s original vine still bears fruit on the property where he lived, nearby Welch’s headquarters. Upon moving to their new location, Welch’s took the opportunity to propagate the original Concord grapevine right at the company headquarters in their newly dedicated vineyard shown here.
Alton Brown was the first to speak. If you are not familiar with Mr. Brown, he has an impressive resume. He is an American television personality, celebrity chef, author, actor, and cinematographer. He is the creator and host of the Food Network television show Good Eats, the mini-series Feasting on Asphalt and Feasting on Waves, and host and main commentator on Iron Chef America. He is also the author of several books on cooking.
Before the event, he was kind enough to pose for a photo with Jane and me.
Alton embraces the Concord grape as a purple super food with many health benefits. He created exclusive recipes for Welch’s that we tasted after the ceremony. He has partnered with Welch’s on promotions since 2009.
Alton spoke of Mr. Bull’s life and how he came to develop the Concord Grape.
According to Alton, Mr. Bull moved to Concord in the 1800′s due to an illness. He was a “fan of agriculture” and this hobby became a passion as he set out to create a new grape – one that was juicy and delicious, yet hardy enough to withstand New England’s harsh winters and not so favorable soil conditions.
He spent a five year period cultivating 20,000 seedlings! Finally in 1849 he achieved his goal and he grew the very first Concord grape.
Here I caught the tail end of Alton’s presentation.
Dennis Rak is one of Welch’s family-farmer owners from Fredonia, NY that cultivated the vines at this new vineyard.
The grape vines are propagated after the plant matures and becomes woody in a controlled greenhouse. The cuttings are planted in a peat mix and bottom heated to create growth and vines. According to Dennis, these grape vines were started the first week in February in a greenhouse.
Welch’s President and CEO Bradley Irwin stated, “The town of Concord is steeped in American history. When we moved our corporate headquarters this year, we were proud to continue to stand with Concord and celebrate our legacy. We’re honored to be able to deepen and extend the connection we have to local heritage.”
We had another photo opp. and our picture was taken with Mr. Irwin after the ceremony.
The dedication was concluded with the presentation of this plaque.
It was a hot morning. The temperature was in the 90ies. I was glad when we moved the gathering inside for a Q &A with the above mentioned gentlemen.
It was interesting to learn that there are over 1,000 Concord grape family farmer/vineyard owners in different parts of the country. Farms are located in Washington State, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. There are some farms located in Canada as well.
Michigan has the most challenging weather and soils have different acidity levels in different regions. According to Welch’s CEO, Bradley Irwin, pictured left, reps. from the different regions come together at harvest time for a taste test, each claiming to have the best quality grapes.
For those interested in Welch’s products with lower sugar, they have a line of light juices and light fruit spreads. Mr. Irwin commented that he enjoys the Welch’s fruit spreads with less sugar as the natural flavor of the fruit comes through.
I had the opportunity to ask Alton Brown a question or two and I had to ask about his diet, and in particular his recipe for fruit smoothies. Going back to the Live and Let Diet episode on Good Eats, he refers to using Concord grape juice in his fruit smoothies. He again talked about the health benefits of Welch’s Concord Grape Juice and his longtime love for Concord grapes. And yes! He does use Welch’s grape juice, as his “purple juice” in fruit smoothies. I plan on giving that a try.
In regards to his diet, I asked if he still ate from “the lists”. Referring again to his Live and Let Diet Episode, he introduced his personal eating plan via food lists. One list of foods he ate from daily, another was 3 x weekly, another 1 x per week and lastly one list of foods he never ate from.
He lost 50 lbs. on his plan and he appears to be leaner than ever! He admitted that he sticks to his plan or “the lists” about 80 percent of the time. He also said he never eats at the airport due to the lack of healthy choices. The key is to be prepared and have healthy food choices on hand. (I am going to give those food lists a closer look!)
Duck Confit Wontons and Concord Royale Beverages
Speaking of food, Alton created two very yummy recipes using Welch’s grape juice. His first recipe is Duck Confit Wontons with Welch’s Concord Grape Sauce. I’ve never tried duck before and these were very yummy. The Grape sauce is simmered and reduced to 1 cup. Several other ingredients, including Welch’s Concord Grape Jelly, are added and cooked for an additional five minutes.
The other recipe that we were able to taste, courtesy of Alton Brown, was the Concord Royale non-alcoholic beverage, pictured on the right below. These were so delicious and unique. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it. These are made with Welch’s grape juice, fresh rosemary, crystallized ginger and balsamic vinegar.
Before we left, we were presented with a small gift bag of some Welch’s products and our own Concord grape vine to plant at home! I thought that was fantastic. I am now thinking about where to plant this special Concord grapevine!
Headquartered in Concord, Massachusetts, Welch’s is the processing and marketing subsidiary of National Grape Cooperative. Welch’s is owned by this cooperative of more than 1,000 family farmers across America and in Ontario, Canada, who grow the delicious and inherently healthy Concord grape used in Welch’s juices and other grape-based products. Welch’s is committed to research and development that will meet the growing demand for products addressing consumers’ health and nutrition needs. Welch’s products are sold throughout the United States and in approximately 50 countries globally. Welch’s is an Equal Opportunity Employer- Minorities/Female/Disabled/Veterans. For more information, visit welchs.com.
I’d like to thank Heather Perkins and Erika Jubinville and all at Welch’s for inviting me to this event!