Rows of red and white grapes climb trellises surrounded by a crumbling brick building, an empty corner store, and graffiti-covered apartments. The man who planted the vineyard says his plan for the lot once occupied by a crack house goes far beyond bottling wine. Mansfield Frazier wants to show there's still hope for the neighborhood and for those trying to move away from a life of crime, reports the AP, just like he did years ago. Once home to oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, the mansions along "Millionaire's Row" have given way to desolate neighborhoods where every fifth house is vacant, over half the children live in poverty and crime is a constant worry. "There's a pipeline from cradle to prison in too many homes in our community," said Frazier, 73, a former hustler who was in and out of prison until two decades ago. An urban vineyard is the last thing anyone expects to find in the middle of Hough, a neighborhood still saddled by the memory of six days of looting and violence that left four dead 50 years ago this summer.
The idea of growing grapes started out six years ago, Frazier said, as a way to spruce up the weed-infested corner across from his home and take a stand for the community. "It's up to us to solve the problem," he said. "We wanted to live where the problem was." Using a city grant, Frazier created the vineyard with help from ex-cons living in a nearby halfway house. They start out as volunteers and then he hires them, if they are willing to work. They cut vines, prune, weed and learn to show up on time. Marvin Foster Jr. has been with Frazier since the vineyard's first year. Before that, he said he was "a bad guy doing nothing"—stealing televisions, ripping metal siding off homes, and dealing drugs. "Without this, I'd probably be in prison like my brother," he said. The vines will be fully mature next year, capable of producing 3,000 bottles. Each has a label with a map of the neighborhood and says "The Vineyards of Chateau Hough." "It's really a re-entry program that's parading as a vineyard," he said. "We become their family, but mentoring doesn't work without a paycheck."