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.
Her forbears Col. Theodorick Bland, Jacob Cunningham, and Samuel Venable, all were forefathers of these historic grapes.
Cunningham lives as a refugee abroad in Brazil and Madeira. Through French film producer Stephan Balay, she was able to find two vines in the Cevennes Mountains of France.
Lucie Morton celebrates the Vitis diversity in Eastern America
The cuttings she procured from these two sites were sent via USDA quarantine to Cornell where they await the virus elimination therapy necessary to release them back into US soil.
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.
Cunningham holds the secrets to its own European father and that of its cousin Norton, now Missouri’s most planted red wine grape.