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 Morton celebrates the Vitis diversity in Eastern America
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.
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.