Twenty-five years ago, Island builder/ developer Peter Rosbeck of Edgartown came up with a very Vineyardy business idea: He would produce a home-grown sparkling water blended with a touch of natural grape flavor. So, on May 1, 1986, Peter’s new company, Vine Inc., began planting a vineyard on a forty-five-acre parcel of land located in the heart of West Tisbury. Along with the grapes, he planned to use Island well water to produce the drink and to irrigate the vineyard. Marketed as Vine, he touted the beverage as a healthy alternative to soft drinks and alcohol.

It was that summer when “Effervescing Grapes,” a feature about Peter’s new venture, appeared in the pages of this magazine. The entrepreneur was, indeed, a visionary. “In about five years,” the article stated, “when the vines mature, Vine Inc. hopes to make any surplus of grapes available to Islanders as table fruit, through a cooperative farming effort. The vineyard will play an important role in adding to Martha’s Vineyard’s economy and employment by tapping the island resources, natural and human.”

Peter Rosbeck’s son, Peter II, now an Island builder as well, remembers the summers of that era vividly. “When I was sixteen, I learned to drive the company van and delivered Vine all over the Island,” he says. “And I mean all over the Island!” The memory produces a long laugh. “From the A& P to Gay Head – I even had to stock the shelves,” he adds.

With his father now busy developing real estate in Ocala, Florida, spending summers on the Vineyard, and traveling internationally, Peter recalls the relatively short life of the business. “It reached a level that maintained itself,” he explains, “but we needed a big infusion of capital to really make it take off.” After several years, with no buyers or investors in sight, Vine, sadly, withered. “My dad just decided to shut it down,” Peter says. “It did well but I remember it was very challenging to grow and maintain the grapes and tough to start up a new venture like that. I think the concept was a little before its time.”

Today, a quarter century later, a plethora of natural fruit-infused sparkling waters appears on grocery store shelves – none, however, Island-produced. And, with sustainable living as popular as black Labs on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, it’s obvious that Peter’s father was on to something.

“I think my dad was just a decade or two too soon,” Peter remarks. “But he’s still got his hand in everything.” As for Peter Rosbeck II, he followed in his father’s footsteps as he grew, in lieu of grapes, a successful custom home-building company on the Island.

Until 2008, the business of growing grapes here was left to Chicama Vineyards, a West Tisbury winery established in 1971 by Catherine and George Mathiesen. Two years ago, Chicama closed its doors after the deaths of its dedicated founders, and the family sold the property and moved off-Island.

Horticulturist Tim Boland, executive director of Polly Hill Arboretum in West Tisbury, says that grape growing is a natural on the Island, in spite of its present dormancy. “Wild grape grows in abundance here,” he says. “But wine varieties find it more difficult due to the lack of intense heat that’s required to help make a quality wine. Major production areas like California, France, Chile, and Australia share an ideal climate for those varieties. While it is warm enough on the Vineyard to overwinter grape varieties that are cultivated specifically for wine production, I think the quality of the product is reduced.”

Grapes and commerce on the Vineyard can be traced back at least four centuries. According to Island lore, English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold coined the name “Martha’s Vineyard” in 1602 upon landing here and documenting the profusion of wild grapes. While it’s rumored that he named the land after his infant daughter Martha, others say it was a tribute to his mother-in-law, who may have helped finance the voyage. Her name, to no one’s surprise, was Martha as well.

History aside, Tim Boland cautions grape lovers about the palatability of the wild species. “Our grapes are bitter for eating but ideal for jams if you add sugar or pectin,” he says. “You’ll have to fight the birds for them though. They find them perfect for snacks just as they are.”