Wednesday, August 05, 2015
Things I Learned About Dr. Frank from Tom Russ' new book
If you've read my Blog in the past, you know that Dr. Konstantin Frank is one of my wine heroes because he is majorly responsible for the wonderful Rieslings (my favorite) that are produced in the Finger Lakes. I even wrote a song about him, which after reading Tom Russ' new biography of Dr. Frank, I know that the song contains inaccuracies and I will rewrite and re-record it. You can listen to the old song here: http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_songInfo.cfm?bandID=599730&songID=4482143
Tom Russ' new book titled Finger Lakes Wine and the Legacy of Dr. Konstantin Frank is well-written, well-researched and filled with wonderful stories and information on the life of Dr. Frank. I highly recommend it. It can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Finger-Legacy-Konstantin-American-Palate/dp/1626197342/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1438726165&sr=8-1&keywords=dr+frank
Here are Some Things I Learned About the Life of Dr. Konstantin Frank:
He was born in 1899 on July 4th, into a well-respected ethnic German family in Ukraine, had his first glass of wine at age 7, and as a young boy, he watched his father's vinifera vines (European varieties) wiped out by phylloxera.
In 1917, he fought in the Czars army during the Russian Revolutions and his family was stripped of their property during this time.
After earning his PhD in Agricultural Science in 1930, he worked to restore the phylloxera-infested vineyards at the Troubetsky Experimental Grape & Wine Station by grafting phylloxera-resistant and cold-resistant rootstock to vinifera vines and conducting extensive testing on rootstock pairings. He also invented an innovative plowing system to plant vines. But because he never joined the Communist Party, he was never formally recognized for his innovative work in Ukraine.
In WWII in 1944, with the Russian army was approaching then German-held Ukraine, he and his wife and children were able to get on a coal car on a German army train and escape to Austria. The Russian government then removed his family's name from all public records. One of his sisters was shot during the war and another sent to Siberia.
During WWII, his son Willy was conscripted into the German Home army in Austria and Willy was captured by the Russians and escaped, captured by the British and escaped and then captured by the Americans.
When the Russians attacked Vienna, Austria, where He and his family were living, they left all their possessions behind and fled to Bavaria, Germany. After the war, he was hired by the Americans to restore agricultural properties in Germany.
In December 1951, Konstantin and his wife Eugenia and his 3 children arrived in New York harbor. He got a job as a dishwasher and they lived in a squalid apartment in NYC and lived off his meager earnings and some money that they had sewn into the linings of they clothing when they had left Germany.
In 1952, despite discouraging replies to his job inquiries, he took a bus to Geneva NY to try and get a position at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. He ended up being hired for a temporary lower-level field nursery position.
When he arrived in Geneva, the Agricultural Experiment Station felt that the answer to the phylloxera and cold hardiness problem was to develop French hybrid grapes. Konstantin tried to explain that he knew how to grow vinifera in this climate, but the research there was already heavily invested in French hybrids.
He researched the Geneva Expeiment Station's own records and found that they had actually achieved some success in growing Vinifera grapes in 1902 and 1911 and some of these vines were still growing over 40 years later. But most growers felt that it was too risky to invest in Vinifera and besides, there was not much of a market for fine wine in America at the time.
In 1953, he met Charles Fournier, President of Gold Seal Winery in Hammondsport NY. who realized Konstantin's vast experience and hired him as Director of Vineyard Research. Fournier and Frank drove throughout the northeast and Canada collecting native rootstocks with which to do grafting experiments. Konstantin did hundreds of thousands of grafting combinations in various soil types until he arrived at optimal combinations.
In 1957, he became a U.S. citizen and bought 118 acres of land on the west side of Keuka Lake for $6000. and in 1961 at the age of 62, he retired from Gold Seal to continue educating and promoting Vinifera wines at his own facility. He had only been in the U.S. 10 years, yet he had done what most said could not be done, grow Vinifiera wine commercially in the Northeast.
Konstantin Frank was truly a driven and focused man who persevered through the horrors of war and the tragedy of displacement and developed vineyard techniques that are used throughout the United States today to make fine wine in areas that were never thought possible. Was he a perfect person, no, but who of us is? But his single-minded focus to develop fine wine where they said it couldn't be done is worth praise. But he didn't do it alone, so praise also to all of those who contributed to the effort to make vinifera wine in the U.S.