CLEVELAND - If there is a man who understands the concept of time, it is Mansfield Frazier. As he walks slowly among the vines which will bring grapes destined for production into wine, he is aware of the time of the year and where his crop should be. He quietly surveys the buds on the vines, deftly fingering the growth, looking for whatever strength there is in the buds.
"You have to cut these off at this time," he said. "That will prompt better growth," he added in a voice that seemed more directed to the grapevine itself than anyone who was listening.
His fingers deftly worked the pruning shears. Frazier was in his element, walking among through the vineyard in a most unusual place.
The corner of Hough Avenue and East 66th Street in Cleveland may seem a most unusual place for a vineyard, but don't tell that to Frazier.
"Land is land and this soil is as good as any," said Frazier in his baritoned voice.
The area has been called "The Vineyards of Chateau Hough." There is a sign announcing that at the entrance to the 300 grapevines.
Three years ago, the land was a field of weeds. The plot is in the city land bank.
"This is an urban farming project going on now," said Frazier, 69, who did most of the work clearing the patch of weeds, turning it into a vineyard where Frontenac and Traminett vines are growing. "I see it as renewing inner-city neighborhoods," said Frazier. "We are creating wealth in inner-city neighborhoods," he said, boasting a broad smile.
Frazier figures the Vineyards of Chateau Hough can produce 3,000 bottles of wine when the grapes are mature enough for harvest. The vineyard is in its third year. The longer workers wait before harvesting, the sweeter and better will be the wine. However, Frazier said he could make wine this fall.
He has help in growing the vineyard. Some of it comes from two Italian winemakers who work as consultants. Frazier also has help with residents in the area of East 66th and Hough. No one has vandalized the vineyard, which is not bounded by any fences.
"I hired some of the young kids -- 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds -- who might have acted up, but now they have invested themselves in the project," said Frazier, his eyes gleaming at the thought of the vineyard serving as a catalyst in helping the neighborhood come back.
The Hough neighborhood has come back. In the 1960s, when many American cities saw riots spawned by racial stresses and turmoil, Hough was among the communities that burned. Large tracts of land were left with abandoned and burned-out structures. When bulldozers came through years later, the land was cleared of the dilapidated structures. What was left was the wide-open spaces.
Several years ago, some urban pioneers began building expensive homes on the land. Frazier is one of them. His home is across the street from the vineyard. However, there are still open tracts of land. The vineyard is on one of them.
"If somebody wants to buy this land and build on it, I'm all for it," said Frazier, adding he would give up the vineyard for something else that would greatly benefit the neighborhood and the city.
But for now, the emphasis is on the vineyard. If rainfall is good, the vineyard will prosper. When the time is right, Frazier hopes to begin the harvest.
Mansfield Frazier is an unusual man. He was born a couple of miles away from where he now lives. His birth came 69 years ago in a room above the bar owned by his father. In the mid-1990s, he walked out of prison after serving about six years for counterfeiting. He made phony credit cards. However, in prison, he began to write, long aware he had a penchant for the written word.
"I managed to get a book published and for then, it sparked my new challenge in life -- how to make money and not break the law," he laughed.
His book, "From Behind the Wall," is a commentary on crime, punishment, and the underclass. He often contributes commentaries to the website The Daily Beast, which deals with political and social issues of the day.
Frazier also works often with the former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Terry Collins. The two are on the speakers' circuit. They work together giving presentations on prison life to colleges, social justice ministries and corrections organizations.
"We call ourselves the ex-warden and the ex-convict," said Frazier, who quickly noted he hired ex-inmates to help tend the vineyard. Frazier sees worth in all people and in all land. In many instances, his approach to people is like his approach to the vineyard -- nurturing it so that it will grow in abundance and provide a wealth for the community.
The Hough neighborhood is growing again. So, too, is the vineyard at the corner of Hough Avenue and East 66th Street. Both require patience. Mansfield Frazier is a patient man. He is waiting on the wine. But he knows that must take work and care. He is proud of the wine country that has been developed in the center of an urban neighborhood in the heart of