"What makes a grape illegal?"
Clue: It has American ancestry
a prequel to Vitis prohibita.
Grapevines travelled the world by ship following the interests and curiosities of adventurers, immigrants and botanists. In particular, the European colonization in North America brought about an intermingling of cultures and exchange of plants that both devastated and resurrected the world’s vineyards.
When Lucie Morton discovers that her own family history is intertwined with that of a vanished French-American grape, her quest to bring it back to Virginia takes her to meet home and passionate winemakers in beautiful and unexpected places.
Back to the future
Let's follow viticulturist and ampelographer Lucie Morton aka “the grape sleuth” on her journey to repatriate the Cunningham grape back to its birthplace in Tidewater Virginia. Her initial curiosity about the only other native-to-Virginia grape, besides Norton, to survive into the 21st century got personal when she discovered that her history and theirs were intertwined.
Her 6th great-grandmother Suzanne Rochet Michaux (1679-1744) was smuggled out of France in a wine barrel by her father to escape the King's Catholic police and ended up in a Hugenot enclave in Prince Edward County, VA.
Grapevines have a genetic history that, like Lucie’s, informs their cultural background as well. So-called American grapes in fact all have European (Vinifera) genes. DNA matching recently found the Vinifera in the ubiquitous Concord to be Bordeaux varietal Sémillon.
Lucie’s ancestors Col. Theodorick Bland and Samuel Venable were forefathers to this historic grape born in Virginia in 1812. Alas, grapes were quickly eclipsed by tobacco as a cash crop and the favored alcoholic beverages—beer, cider and whiskey—needed no vineyards.
Lucie Morton celebrates the Vitis diversity in Eastern America
Although Cunningham is extinct in the US, we have found it in the Cevennes Mountains of France and the Portugese islands of Madeira, Santo Porto and Pico. There may be other places it has found to call home.
Today Virginia has a vibrant wine industry and Norton is now Missouri’s most planted red wine grape.
Surely, the long lost Cunningham will be welcomed home after two centuries abroad.
Note of intent
Finding our roots
This is a “finding-my-roots” documentary featuring grapevines and the people who have cultivated them for the past 200 years on both sides of the Atlantic. It will bring the audience a back-to-the-future look at American and French cultural exchange in an original and unique way.
For Lucie, whether growing wild on the forest fringe or constrained to a garden trellis, grapevines are a beautiful gift of nature and sustenance.
Pierre Galet takes a trip around the globe with American heritage vines