Our Lady of Victory Should be Called Our Lady of the Catawba Grapes

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One of the oldest German Catholic parishes in Cincinnati is Our Lady of Victory in Delhi, on the West Side. The parish was officially founded in 1842 by a group of Germanic immigrants, mostly from the Rhine area who had been meeting together as early as the mid 1830s. They were tired of carting themselves down the bumpy Western Hills into the basin of downtown Cincinnati to go to the closest Church on Sundays. They also wanted to hear the homily in their native tongue and have a bit more control of their parish like they did in Germany. The land for the second church was donated by John Gertison, a vintner and immigrant from a wine village near Freiburg called Merdigen. His family had owned a vineyard there, but he sold his share to come to the U.S. for a better life.

Inside the original Our Lady of Victory church built on land donated by winemaker John Gertison and painted in the 1930s by Gerhard Lammers, a German immigrant from goetta country.   The Church was demolished in the 1970s.

The original Germans of Delhi called her “Maria zum Siege”, but she really should be called the Maria of the Catawba Grapes. This is because of the number of German immigrant wine growers in Delhi who were founding and early members of the parish. The carved wooden statue at the church shows Mary holding a young Christ child standing over the globe blessing the world. They might want to add some grape bunches on her or the Christ Child’s outstretched hands or perhaps a silver wine chalice, which some of her parishioners won from the Longworth Wine House for their wine and grapes.

Although local history gushes about Longworth’s vineyards in Mt. Adams and Tusculum, it is the West Side – Delhi, Warswaw, Cheviot, Riverside, Sedamsville and even Price Hill – that produced the most vintners, grapes, wine and awards during Cincinnati’s Catawba Craze of the 1830s-1860s.    And, it was Longworth’s Bold Face Creek vineyard in Delhi that started his experiments with wine growing, using the Cape grape from the Swiss settlement at Vevay Indiana.  In the case of Cincinnati native wines, the West Side WAS the best side.

Our Lady of Victory was christened as an image by Pope Pius V after the Catholic naval forces won a victory over the Ottoman Muslim Turks at Lepato on October 7, 1571. Knowing that the Christian forces were at a distinct disadvantage, St. Pope Pius V called for all of Europe to pray the Rosary for victory. The victory was decisive and prevented the Islamic invasion of Europe, and for many evidenced the Hand of God working through Our Lady.

Unfortunately Maria zum Siege didn’t win the battle over rot, mildew and pests that caused the decimation of Cincinnati’s Catawba vineyards in the 1860s, but she did offer a good start for many of the Germanic immigrants who used their farms to grow veggies like cabbage for their kraut,  and flowers after grapes were not viable.

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Der Deutscher Gartner Unterstutzungs Verein – the German Gardener’s Beneficial Society – like an early insurance company for former grape growers – at the German Heritage Museum.

Sebastian Rentz one of the most successful German vintners of Delhi, was a member. He built a large 17 room frame house on what is now Rentz Place in 1847. His farm abutted the mass acreage of Longworth’s Bold Face Creek Vineyards which now encompasses Embschoff Woods. Longworth started his experiments there with the Cape grape from the Swiss immigrants at Vevay, Indiana, before he found the mighty Catawba. Longworth also complimented Rentz’ grapes and awarded him the silver cup for his wine in 1846, a year he produced and astounding never since broken record of 1300 gallons for two acres. Rentz was the only German wine grower in Cincinnati who had a grape he cultivated named for him that was used widely – called the Rentz Seedling Grape.

Lawrence Baermann had come from Merdigen also, with his father Johann, and five other siblings, one of whom was my fifth great grannie, Anna Baermann Brosey.    Their farm was at the end of what is now Palisades Drive. Lawrence Baermann’s daughter Louise married Sebastian Rentz’s son Sebastian Jr., and his brother George married John Gertison’s daughter .   There were lots of intermarriages amongst the vine dressing families.    Their family’s winery, Weingut Baermann is still operating over 200 years later in Merdigen – a short bike ride from the city of Freiburg.

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The wine from today’s Baermann Winery in Merdigen that would be closest to the Catawba wines the OLV parishioners would have made.

Protus Heckinger (1806-1880) was another immigrant from wine country who made his way to the hillsides of Delhi around Bald Face Creek. He was born in Amoltern, a wine growing village northwest of Freiburg in the Kaiserstuhl region of Baden Wuertemburg. His parents Joseph and Clara Weinmann Heckinger baptized him in the parish of St. Vitus Catholic Church. He came to Cincinnati early for the wave of Germanic immigrants and married Abigail Lord in June of 1828. Like other poor immigrant farmers, he had a secondary occupation as a shoemaker, which he practiced in downtown on 9th Street in the 1830s until he moved the family to Delhi. By 1842 he was raising grapes on a 2 acre vineyard in Delhi right next to Longworth’s first vineyard. He must have been a skilled vinedresser because he was praised by Nicholas Longworth who said in September of 1842,

“There are some vineyards in the county that produced more abundant crop on the same quality of ground, as Mr. Mottier. Mr. Hackenger had the finest crop I have ever seen.”

In 1846 Hackenger sold 400 gallons of a total of 1000 gallons of juice he produced 1 ¾ acres of vines to Longworth for $500. That left quite an amount of juice to make wine for his family and friends. Hackenger and his wife Abigail Lord had 11 children, baptized at our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, a large army of free vineyard workers. His sons must not have liked the farm life, because by the time of his death in 1880, only a daughter Sarah Jane was living with them on the farm. His sons all had moved away or were working jobs in downtown Cincinnati.

Stephan Tuchfarber (1822-1906) was one of the immigrants sold by the ads Nicholas Longworth placed in German wine country for tenant farmers to work his vineyards. He purchased a lease from Longworth for tract of land two miles west of Sedamsville in Delhi. He cleared the sunny hillside and planted a vineyard. He and his wife Apollonia Rubein were married at the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, but belonged to and are buried at Our Lady of Victory in Delhi. They honored their sponsor by naming their last son John Nicholas in 1865.

Ignatz Witterstaetter (1781-1849), came to the United States in 1832, with his wife, Mary Elizabeth, and at least two children, Ignatius Jr. and Mary Ann. They came from Achern, Ortenaukreis, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, which is due north of Freiburg, and 10 miles southeast of Baden-Baden. They were living on their Delhi farm by 1837, as they appear as members Our Lady of Victory that year. They lived on 22 acres at the corner of Pedretti and Foley Roads. The elder Ignatz, died in the 1849 his wife, Elizabeth around 1857. Their son Ignaz Jr, born in 1822, married Louise Kupferle and built the first greenhouse in Cincinnati. In 1869 he is listed as wine and fruit grower in Riverside. His Grandson, Richard Witterstetter started the R. C. Witterstetter & Sons Nursery and became known as the Carnation King.

Today the parishioners are more meat smokers than wine makers. In August 2016, the parish hosted the first annual Holy Smokes Barbecue Competition, an event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Each year they have a comical biblical motto. Last year’s motto was from the beatitudes, “Blessed are those that smoke the meats, for they shall inherit the girth.” Maybe I should enter this year’s competition on August 7 & 8, with a Catawba Wine Sweet BBQ sauce.

2 thoughts on “Our Lady of Victory Should be Called Our Lady of the Catawba Grapes

  1. We think that perhaps the original owners of our home and property at the end of Pontius were probably grape growers on the hillsides and storing the barrels in the old springhouse.

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