Drinking Wine and Hearing Stories

We took a trip down to the Finger Lakes wine region yesterday to enjoy a wine tasting (and buying) experience. We chose the route along Seneca Lake, which is my favorite. It starts in the quaint little city of Geneva and snakes on down all the way to the magnificent city of Watkins Glen at the opposite end of the lake. We feel extraordinarily lucky to have this wine country gem of gems in our rhetorical backyard, and unfortunately only visit every couple of years.

The Finger Lakes area is full of life, lore, and of course, wine. It is a mecca for Amish and Mennonites who maintain pristine homesteads and whose horse and buggies go clop-clop-clop on all roads as their mode of transportation.  The lake itself is rumored to be bottomless because its murky, mushy bottom supposedly precludes the presence of finding a solid bottom.

There is the Seneca Army Depot – an abandoned military installation that was once home to the country’s largest arsenal of nuclear weapons. Another abandoned, and scary facility is the old Willard Psychiatric Hospital. With its Gothic exterior it does not welcome explorers.

The area is also rife with rumors and tales of its Native American original inhabitants that remain haunting and delighting visitors today.

But the real jewel of our visit to the wineries yesterday was our stop in a small, comfy, family-owned Prejean winery where we were served by the husband-and-wife owners. All of their wines were excellent, but one in particular was outstanding – both the wine and the story behind it.

The name of the wine is Bosun’s Mate, and here is its story.

In World War II, the original owner of the winery, and father of the current owner, fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal. He was injured, covered with shrapnel, and partially paralyzed. The bosun on the ship fastened an empty barrel to him and tossed him overboard to save him, as the ship was sinking. He survived, but he could never find out what happened to the bosun who saved his life. Today the owners hope to somehow locate the bosun’s family and present them with a bottle (or more) of their Bosun’s Mate wine, a delicious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. It blew us away with its characteristics of smoothness with berry and cocoa aromas and flavors.

There are many wonderful wineries in the Finger Lakes region, but if you want to combine your tasting with delightful homegrown stories, do make Prejean a required stop on your itinerary. Our next stop will be to return and learn the story of the name, Prejean!

Seneca Army Depot

When we drove home from taking one of our dogs to the companion animal medical clinic at Cornell University (another story), we passed what was once the largest military storage facility for weapons. This Seneca Army Depot is mostly deserted except for some small parcels that have been sold off.

Comprising a massive 10, 587 acres, the depot straddles the land between the two largest Finger Lakes – Cayuga and Seneca – which are the homes to the many wineries the region has become famous for.

Fascinated by abandoned places and the ghosts that inhabit them, this army depot is especially mesmerizing because of the role it played and the things it held in the time frame between 1941 and 2000.

Although some of the land has been sold off, more remains under lock and key, evidently still guarding whatever secrets remain buried there.

Populating the off-limits area are 500 “igloos,” the mostly underground storage huts that held ammunition, including the largest inventory of nuclear weaponry in the country. These huts were built to withstand the most unimaginable explosive forces.

Another feature is its airstrip, which is still in good working order and can handle huge aircraft. After scouring the Internet and several academic databases, information on this airstrip was scanty, at best.

Since the depot handled nuclear weapons, it also needed to dispose of radioactive materials. It developed burial pits for the radioactive waste as well as a 5,000-gallon tank that contained the wastewater from the clothes washed that had been worn by the workers in the nuclear areas. In 1987, the pits were dug up and the radioactive materials were transported to an approved waste site.

In the 1950s and 60s, metal components dubbed as classified were buried in the Miscellaneous Components Burial Site, and because they were classified, what these really had never been revealed. The materials have since been dug up and disposed of elsewhere, but the question remains – what were they?

An Incinerator Building, used from 1974 – 1979, was used to burn garbage and rubbish, and from there, it went into a cooling pond, from which waste ash was removed and deposited into the Ash Landfill. Nothing was used to cover this waste. Approximately 18 tons of refuse were incinerated weekly.

In 1990, the EPA placed the depot on its superfund program of the National Priorities List for a long-term cleanup project.

Finally, there is the herd of white deer that resides exclusively in the depot. It is the largest such herd anywhere.

So, why my fascination?

Where to begin…

    • Why is there a well-kept, ready-to-use airstrip that can handle the largest of aircraft?
    • Could there be more underground facilities in the restricted area?
    • What caused the deer to be white?
    • Was the depot a major target in WWII?
    • What were the classified metal materials made of?
    • Do any missiles remain somewhere, buried on the site?

    It seems I have just begun my research to find answers to these and other, questions about this abandoned site in the Finger Lakes.

    %d bloggers like this: