During the third annual Herman Jaeger Festival this past weekend at the Civic, spectators could learn about Jaeger from not only informational displays, but could also see the original grape press.

The press was from the Herman Jaeger Vineyard, which was located east on Neosho near the “S” curve by Monark Road. Owners are John and Linda Smerdon.

“I did some research on the press itself. It was from a company in Cincinnati that made farm implements, and one of the things that they made was generic press,” said John Smerdon. “It was heavy enough, what they would do is put a big hedge post, have a couple of guys to turn it and they would begin to press. You would have a bucket, a wooden platform with some lips on it and then a spout at the end of the platform. Then you would have a bucket underneath that drippings were pressed into.”

Jaeger was born in Switzerland and came the United States in 1864. He lived about seven miles east of Neosho, where he and his brother, John, settled and raised their families. The brothers set out vineyards shortly after they arrived, and spent their lives selling grapes and wine. They were soon grafting their domestic grapes with wild grapes, which Jaeger found along Shoal Creek. These newly-bred grapes were very hardy and much in demand. As a result they also sold grape cuttings.

Jaeger was more interested in the science of the grape. Therefore, John managed the vineyards and Herman worked on creating new hybrids. In his work, Jaeger was connected with two of the most noted grape experts in America — Dr. George Hussman of the University of Missouri and Dr. Thomas Volney Munson of Dennison, Texas. The three men exchanged many cuttings and shared information on their own work. They wrote numerous letters back and forth — some of which survive. 

Smerdon said the grape press was located near the well house near Herman’s house.

“Of course they would have washed bottles and pressed them (grapes), so they could clean things,” he said. “There is glass everywhere, today, you could walk up there now and start picking up glass.”

Smerdon noted that an archeologist from MSU came down a while back and within 30 seconds, pulled a glass wine stopper – still intact.

Smerdon said a lot of wine was pressed from this grape press. But, he noted, Herman’s brother, John, who lived a quarter of a mile away, might have also had a grape press.

In December of 1888, Munson and Jaeger were awarded the French Agricultural Legion of Honor for their work in stopping a deadly grape louse (phylloxera), which threatened the vineyards of Europe. By using grape cuttings from Jaeger vineyards, which were sent to Europe in boxcar loads, the vineyards of Europe were saved.

Because of his work, Jaeger is often called the savior of the wine industry.
“You would not have a wine industry today without the contributions and disease resistance that Herman Jaeger gave,” Smerdon said.

His cuttings were planted or transplanted in several European countries, including France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

Herman’s house is gone now, but John’s house still stands.

“It (Herman’s house) became unstable, they pushed it into the basement and then covered it up,” he said. “It was just old.”

No one lives in John’s house.

Smerdon said he and his wife were proud to have the original grape press in their possession.

“The press is priceless, because its literally a press that helped saved the European vineyards,” he said.