Longfellow and Catawba Wine

From time to time we like to divert from our usual blogs about small business accounting and daily money management to dig up a few nuggets about our hometown — Cincinnati. This is one of those times.

Longfellows is an the Over-the-Rhine bar that recently opened a new space for private events they call the Other Room. The original Longfellows bar is named after the poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) who has a certain connection to the Queen City. 

Longfellow loved mythology and legend, both of which Cincinnati has in abundance. We are named after Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a Roman farmer and statesman known for his great civic virtue; we are also a legendary wine producing region of the world. 

catawba grapevine
Catawba Grapevine image courtesy of Double A Vineyards.

Nicholas Longworth was a wine grower in the Ohio River Valley outside of Cincinnati in the early 1800s. His prize wine was made from the native Catawba grape, and would become one of the greatest wines in the world.

This was the wine of poet Longfellow’s classic poem “Catawba Wine” — a tribute to the grape and the city that produced it, written on the receipt of a gift of Catawba wine from the Nicholas Longworth vineyards on the Ohio River.

CATAWBA WINE*

This song of mine
Is a Song of the Vine,
To be sung by the glowing embers
Of wayside inns,
When the rain begins
To darken the drear Novembers.

It is not a song
Of the Scuppernong,
From warm Carolinian valleys,
Nor the Isabel
And the Muscadel
That bask in our garden alleys. 

Nor the red Mustang,
Whose clusters hang
O’er the waves of the Colorado,
And the fiery flood
Of whose purple blood
Has a dash of Spanish bravado. 

For richest and best
Is the wine of the West,
That grows by the Beautiful River;
Whose sweet perfume
Fills all the room
With a benison on the giver. 

And as hollow trees
Are the haunts of bees,
Forever going and coming;
So this crystal hive
Is all alive
With a swarming and buzzing and humming.

Very good in its way
Is the Verzenay,
Or the Sillery soft and creamy;
But Catawba wine
Has a taste more divine,
More dulcet, delicious, and dreamy.

There grows no vine
By the haunted Rhine,
By Danube or Guadalquivir,
Nor on island or cape,
That bears such a grape
As grows by the Beautiful River.

Drugged is their juice
For foreign use,
When shipped o’er the reeling Atlantic,
To rack our brains
With the fever pains,
That have driven the Old World frantic.

To the sewers and sinks
With all such drinks,
And after them tumble the mixer;
For a poison malign
Is such Borgia wine,
Or at best but a Devil’s Elixir. 

While pure as a spring
Is the wine I sing,
And to praise it, one needs but name it;
For Catawba wine
Has need of no sign,
No tavern-bush to proclaim it. 

And this Song of the Vine,
This greeting of mine,
The winds and the birds shall deliver
To the Queen of the West,
In her garlands dressed,
On the banks of the Beautiful River.

*Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth “Catawba Wine” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow [online resource], Maine Historical Society, Accessed 23 March 2019.