05/31/04 — Blessing the vine

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Blessing the vine

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on May 31, 2004 1:57 PM

ROSE HILL -- The planting of a cutting from the state's oldest cultivated vine capped the second annual blessing of the vine Saturday at the Duplin Winery vineyard.

The Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine led the ceremony under a shelter at the newest vineyard, where 3,000 of the vines are one year old. A new batch of Carlos grapes, the most hardy and healthy of the muscadines, was planted there this spring. The Fussell family, which owns the winery, has dedicated the vineyard to Christian work. The brotherhood is a group of people who promote the wines of America.

Rev. Ron Rivenbark, pastor of Magnolia United Methodist Church, hopes to build a retreat on the grounds of the vineyard. "It would be open to all adults to go into silent retreat and spend time with God," he said.

David Fussell planted the cutting from the mother vine during a separate ceremony at an 8-year-old vineyard across the road. The cutting was taken from the oldest cultivated vine in America. For more than 400 years, the scuppernong vine has been producing grapes on Roanoke Island.

The cutting went down at the foot of a cross on the north side of the dedicated vineyard. The vineyard is dotted with landscaped ponds, which make up the irrigation system, and with statues. A proposed monastery will also be built there someday.

The cutting will be trained up the cross, symbolizing Jesus' statement that He is the vine and His followers are the branches. "We say a prayer before we plant a vine," said Fussell. "It might be a short one sometimes, but their instructions are to say a prayer ... Every vineyard every year should have a blessing of the vine, whether it's this elaborate or not."

In July 2003, Fussell and several others were inducted into the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine during a ceremony that preceded the first annual blessing of the vine. The brotherhood, based in Santa Rosa, Calif., has chapters in 11 states and Washington, D.C., England, Finland and Japan. It is the only wine brotherhood dedicated to the wines of America. Fussell and his family raise muscadine grapes, which are a type of scuppernong.

Former Sen. Harold Hardison, who was also inducted last year for helping get legislation passed in the mid 1970s that allowed the Fussells to open the winery, also attended the dedication with Dan Fussell, 90-year-old patriarch of the Fussell family.

The ceremony Saturday was shorter than last year's ceremony, which held by the Holy Cross Orthodox Christian Monastery. That ceremony dated back to 350 A.D. when the first one was held to thank God for maintaining efforts to plant a vineyard.

"There's a lot of hidden meaning in what we do and what we say," said David Fussell before the ceremony began. "Every time we do it, I learn something else."

A basket of wheat bread was on the altar, flanked by carafes of wine and oil. Laid in front were cuttings of wheat.

The ponds are the vineyard's irrigation system, said Project Supervisor Russell Barwick. He starts with a one-year-old vine and ties it to a rod and covers it with a tube several inches wide to protect it from hungry deer.

"Every week to 10 days, we visit the vine and train it up the rod," he said. It takes the vine about a year to reach the top, where it spreads out onto a horizontal line. Any blooms that come are knocked off so the energy will go directly to the vine itself. "Mr. David wanted this to be a premier teaching vineyard to help train our growers."

About 80 farmers own shares in Duplin Winery and grow grapes on about 600 acres for the wine making process.

"The first few years are for pruning and training," said Barwick. "If we pick any of these this year, it will be by hand."