The Misleading Name
Martha’s Vineyard, though it sounds like a place where you’d sip wine by the beach, surprisingly has no vineyards. This island, just seven miles off the Massachusetts coast, earned its name not because of grapevines, but rather from wild fox grapes observed by English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602.
The Legend vs. Reality
There’s a bit of a mystery surrounding the name. Some doubt the tale that Gosnold named it after his daughter Martha, as there’s no written proof of her existence. Others suggest it might have been “Martin’s Vineyard,” linked to British explorer Martin Pring or John Martin. Regardless, the island is home to wild fox grapes and silverleaf grapes.
A Brief History of Vineyards
Surprisingly, there was a time when Martha’s Vineyard did have a vineyard. In 1971, Chicama Vineyards became the first bonded winery in Massachusetts, covering 50 acres. However, battling New England’s unpredictable weather and wildlife, the winery, started by George and Catherine Mathiesen, closed in 2008 after their passing.
Weather Woes and Wildlife Battles
Chicama Vineyards faced challenges from hurricanes wiping out crops to designing nets and fences to protect grapes from hungry birds and deer. Despite their dedication, the family decided to sell when the founders passed away. Their son, Tim Mathiesen, explained, “No one in the family wanted to continue the business on their own.”
Unlikely Future for Vineyards
Considering Martha’s Vineyard’s sandy soil, growing domesticated grapes is tough. The island’s weather and deer pose threats, making it unlikely for another vineyard to replace Chicama. The unique combination of factors makes it a challenging environment for winemaking.
The Island’s Ancient Past
Before English settlers and explorers named Martha’s Vineyard, it had a different identity. The Wampanoag people, who lived there for thousands of years, called it “Noepe,” meaning “land amid the waters.” Evidence of Indigenous settlements dating back to 2270 B.C. exists, and approximately 300 Wampanoag people still call the island home today.
Martha’s Vineyard’s name might be misleading, but its history is fascinating. Despite the challenges of establishing vineyards, the island holds a unique charm that goes beyond the absence of grapevines. The combination of Indigenous heritage, ancient settlements, and the tale of Chicama Vineyards adds layers to the island’s identity, making it more than just a picturesque name on the map.