Cygnus Wine Cellars, in two parts.
Part One: The Name
Cygnus Wine Cellars is named after the constellation Cygnus, often referred to as the Swan or Northern Cross (in the winter of the northern hemisphere, the constellation has the appearance of a cross with its base at the horizon). I took the name from my interest in astronomy, as many important scientific discoveries have their basis in Cygnus.
During the 1960s physicists and astrophysicists returned their attention to theories, begun back in the 1920’s and 30’s, about collapsed stars and what would happen to them after the event. Part of the theories included the concept of extremely large gravitational forces, originally developed in 1783. Stephen Hawking, a British physicist, postulated that perhaps looking for evidence of large x-ray sources might be a sign of the star remnants gravitational field, as the field would pull in any interstellar mass in the region, and by doing so, would give off x-rays in the process. Well, drum role please, astronomers had been interested in pulsars, sources of periodic x-ray emissions, and in 1972 were able to confirm that Cygnus X-1, a particularly large x-ray source, was made up of a large blue (cool) sun and an invisible partner with such a large gravitational field that it was stripping mass from its visible partner creating the x-ray emissions. (The orbiting pair was in a position such that the visible partner would, in the course of its orbit, get ‘in front’ of the black hole and interupt the x-ray emission, thus the pulse nature of the signal.) The Black Hole had been found! Yippee for science! Refer to the picture on my Facebook page for an image of this event. Also read Stephen Hawking’s book ‘A Brief History of Time’ (1988).
In the early 1990’s, astronomers discovered the first evidence of a solar system, also in the Cygnus constellation. Solar systems, that is a sun with planetary bodies in orbit around it, was basically unseen outside of our solar system which includes the Sun, earth, etc., and was thought to be unique, a probably maybe singular event in the universe. Most stars are solitary, with no other significant masses in their region. Over the last 20 years, other solar system candidates have been identified, but Cygnus was the first.
There are other discoveries that have been made within the constellation Cygnus, but they do not include the creation of fine wine. You have to come to the Cygnus in Manchester to discover that!
Part Two: the Building
Cygnus Wine Cellars is located in an old two story concrete block building in downtown Manchester, the first Maryland winery located in a town. Very much like in Europe, especially Germany and France, the wineries are in the villages, where they belong; and the vineyards are out in the countryside surrounding the village, where they belong.
The building started out life in 1939 as Dutterrer’s slaughter house. It functioned as such until 1968 or so. Dutterrer’s was purchased by a Virginia meat packing company in the mid-1970’s, who promised faithlessly to keep the business in Manchester. However, by 1985 it was gone, with only a small distribution activity remaining. The slaughterhouse building and the large storage building on Main Street came on the market in 1995, and that summer were purchased by a local businessman. I submitted a lease proposal in early fall, and initial negotiations with the real estate broker who had managed the sale sort of stalled, and so we called it off just before winter. I received a call from the owner over the holidays who suggested that we continue our negotiations, but without the broker, who he felt only got in the way. Well we did just that and by April had hammered out a lease agreement. We had it vetted by lawyers ( just because we had all this extra money laying around and thought it would be a good idea to give it away to deserving poor folk, like corporate attorneys!? Not.), and signed it with an effective date of 1 July. That done, I was able to finalize the applications for the Federal Permit and State License (which required a physical premise to inspect). I received both the Permit and License in July, 1996.
Here are some photos of the early building rehab. Very few structural/ physical changes have been made to the building to change it from a slaughterhouse to a winery. There was a front portion of the building that I tore down, built the deck (using some of the old rafters for the deck roof) and ramp to the street, and as I like to say to people on tours of the winery, “poked a hole in the wall and put in ‘people doors’” and turned the former Kill Room into the Tasting/Sales Room, which has more macabre innuendoes than I have space to list. heh, heh.
The building actually makes a
perfect small winery. The front room of the slaughterhouse houses the Press Room, where grapes are received and all of the crushing, pressing, fermentation and other processing operations take place. A room in the back, down the hall past the current office/lab space and bathroom, is the Barrel Room
(where of course
the reds sit and age patiently in 60 gallon American oak barrels). And the previous cold room, adjacent to the Barrel Room and behind the Tasting Room (a room size refrigerator where ‘previous visitors’ would hang out for a few days) is fully insulated and makes a perfect place to store the bottled wine. The large 10 foot tall door opening into the Tasting Room always gets peoples attention.
The basement story of the building has a smaller version of the cold room where the methode champenoise sparkling wines are stored for their bottle fermentation and riddling operations. Also are two large rooms used for private tastings, parties, bridal/baby showers, and dinners. In addition, there is a small backyard where for larger events, especially the summer dinners, I put up a large tent and we do things outside.
Winemaking began with harvest in September 1996. The winery opened for retail in May 1998. It has been a roller coaster ride in Hell ever since.
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