Origin & History of the Black Spanish Grape

Portrait of Thomas Volney Munson from the 1880’s

Portrait of Thomas Volney Munson from the 1880’s

Few varieties of grape are as misunderstood or a subject of as much speculation as Vitis bourquiniana, or as it is commonly known in Texas, the “Black Spanish” grape. The theories of its origin, history, and point of entry to the state are as varied as the regions where the grape is found and are woven into the fabric of the family histories and genealogy of the diverse ethnic regions.

In order to clarify the issue, it is imperative to examine the competing theories of the route of introduction into the Americas. One prevailing theory in Texas history says that the Black Spanish was first introduced by Spanish Catholic missionaries as early as 1580, and was transported north from Mexico to the area of the Rio Grande and subsequently into central Texas. The other theory has the point of entry at Savannah on or about 1670, by way of the earliest French settlers. The key to solving this mystery resides in understanding the likely genetic contributors to the grape and the history surrounding the introduction of those varieties to the new world.

Vitis bourquiniana, as defined by Munson, is divided into two distinct forms, the “A” type characterized by distinctly lobed leaves and large compound clusters, and the “B” type with its mid-lobed or top shouldered leaves and simple clusters. The “A” type contains the varieties Herbemont, and Lenoir, while the “B” type is represented by the Devereux and the Rulander. The grape, for many years was, in fact, classified as subspecies of V. aestivalis.

In the famous correspondence between Munson and Gougie Bourquin contained in the book, Foundations of American Grape Culture, Munson devotes several pages to his interpretation of the origins of the grape. Munson had determined by numerous trials that the variety displayed unique qualities of adaptability and resistance to common diseases. The perplexing issue remained. Why did the variety have the characteristics of native grapes and at the same time showed traits only held by vinifera?

In an exchange of correspondence with Munson regarding the Blue French (Lenoir) and Brown French (Herbemont) grape in August of 1887 Bourquin wrote that, “These two varieties were brought from France when Georgia was first settled, and have been in our family ever since”. He (Bourquin) goes on to elaborate in another letter dated April 1st, 1892 that,” I distinctly recollect a small book, a history of Savannah, particularly, “The Siege of Savannah,” in which the author said: The two kinds of grapes brought from France brought by the French Colony, for the purpose of wine making, did well, but their attempt at making a good wine was complete failure, as the climate did not suit. This is as near as I can recollect.” The work gave the history of the settlement up to 1800A.D.” He goes on to state,”The two kinds of grapes referred to were certainly the “Blue” and “Brown”. These two were in the gardens of nearly all the old French families, and I never saw any other kind of grapes in Savannah, when a boy, excepting Catawba.”

Earlier on March 22 of 1892 Bourquin comments on a trip he had made to the Savannah gardens of French Counsel, Monsieur Francia Charenet; “the French Counsel here has in his yard the Brown and Blue French. I have been in his garden and picked them myself, so that I could be positive that they were the same as mine. His vines were brought direct from France, and are identical with mine.” Other testimony in this correspondence sites that the grapes “are very common in the Medoc district” of France. Bourquin then goes on to state, “My ancestors were Huguenots and were living in London at the time of emigrating to Savannah. I find this from records in London, where the three brothers made application for immense land-grants in Georgia and South Carolina. I don’t think that there can be any doubt about the French origin of my grapes.”

Bourquin’s testimony establishes a 150 year history of the grape in Georgia and would place the beginning of the recorded history of the variety at about 1742.

The morphology of the bourquiniana was the subject of intense scrutiny by Munson who wrote, “Though this group or species of grape, from the evidences about to be cited, is certainly not native, yet, owing to its long successful culture in Southern states, and being considered not only in this country but in Europe as a product of this country, and having been long classified as a sub-species, or botanical variety of V. aestivalis, it is very proper to include it as one of our species viticulturally”. Munson also observed that the characteristics also included “their power to resist Phyloxxera far better than V. vinifera, mildew and mostly rot; their great vigor and tall climbing traits; their general much greater resemblance to V. aestivalis and V. lincecumii, than V. vinifera in its pure form and, “no return to pure aestivalis or cinerea by atavism in seedlings ” , that, “I am well forced to regard them as having a distinct species for their origin, possibly two, closely allied, one for each group, as each group has some specific characteristics not found in the other, and the original species stands between our native aestivalis and V. vinifera with some approaches to toward V. cinerea, or the group of species to which it belongs” Again citing his correspondence with Gougie Bourquin he affirms that Bourquin has ” positively shown them to have been imported”.

Munson then summarizes his position by pointing out that in their distribution that,” they’re not being found distributed in the native woods, but only here and there old vines in old places gone to ruin or neglect by the death of the owners and their history lost.” He then goes on to state,” With such varieties in the yards of gentlemen in one of the entrepot and oldest cities of the South, it is almost impossible, but for them to be disseminated through friends, from cuttings and seeds, or by hybridizing seeds, and hence it is quite probable that it is the source of nearly all representatives of this species in this country.”

He then ponders the question of the return of the species to Europe by stating, “It now seems strange that French vineyardists should import these varieties from the United States as “American Aestivalis”, but such is the case.”

Vine Hybridizing in the American HybridsIf the bourquiniana is a hybrid then where and when did the hybridization take place and how did the seeds, cuttings or plants come in possession of the early French settlers?

This line of questioning leads ultimately to two possible scenarios. One being that source of the bourquiniana was from the early settlements of the Georgia and Carolina Colonies. This theory will propose that the earliest of the settlers had planted vinifera and the hybridization between native aestivalis (and cinerea?) took place over the period of one or two decades and, as the initial vinifera planting died out, the bourquinianas were discovered and identified as a surviving variety and preserved. Alternately, the vine may have been the result of intentional cross breeding of the vinifera and aestivalis. Then as the colonization spread, the new hybrid was disseminated to the west and ultimately through Louisiana and into Texas.

The only other theory explores the possibility of direct importation of the bourquiniana as a completed hybrid and while it is somewhat more difficult to accept, nonetheless it must be stated as a possibility, especially in light of the historical observations presented in the Munson correspondence. It is conceivable that the hybridization for this species was conducted not as a native (accidental or engineered) hybridization, but as an intentional cross conducted in Europe prior to its introduction to the new world. In order for this to have occurred, the original source stock would have to have been collected in the new world and then returned to Europe for the hybridization. If this was the case then the timing of this process becomes somewhat troublesome due to the very early date, perhaps pre-1700’s, requirement for the time to collect the specimens, return them to Europe, conduct the hybridization, and then return the bourquiniana to the Americas. Further, this presupposes that the early hybridizers would have had the foresight to understand the adaptability problems that were to plague the colonist who attempted the introduction of vinifera. Given the history of vinifera in the colonies, and the two hundred year record of failed efforts to force the vinifera into cultivation in colonies, this remains only a remote possibility.

To frame the most likely explanation, history has provided with a series of clues, the first of which points to Georgia as one of the likely areas of the first of the appearance of the bourquiniana.

Early in the eighteenth century the business of establishing a suitable vine for production had already undergone nearly one hundred years of repeated failures in the colonies of Virginia and Carolina. Even though the level of production was small by modern standards, the isolated vineyardist of the new world were perplexed by the series of devastating failures of the vinifera. The vines succumbed to the full spectrum of disaster ranging from Phyloxxera, to the myriad of humidity borne fungal diseases, to freeze death of the vines in the bitter cold of the American winter. The frantic effort to accomplish the dream of the recreation of the vineyards of France on the shores of the new foreign land continued unabated, without success, for over two hundred years, largely because of the lack of communication between the isolated colonies. This isolation between regional colonies proved to be something of a boon to the ongoing work to get a suitable grape variety established in the west. Even though there were serious failures taking place, almost universally, word of these failures was slow leave the respective colony and successive attempts were still being planned and executed. The only observation that made any sense to the early settlers was that their new land was overgrown with native vines, and they knew that wine could be made from these grapes, then why was it that they couldn’t seem to establish their beloved European grapes?

The last of the New World colonies to be founded was Georgia and the English Crown turned to General James Oglethorpe to plan and build the settlement. In an interesting approach to the concept of the settlement the main theme was to establish a fundamentally philanthropic settlement and, in order to properly set the course, one of the primary goals in England for the new “Garden of Eden” was to import and develop a wide range of useful plants for production of goods, with the two primary products suited to the colonies theme, silk and wine. As part of the utopian concept of the Georgia colony, the planners envisioned mulberry trees as the ideal trellising for their vines. One early enthusiast addresses the general theme portraying members of the colony as benefactors of the less fortunate,

“Let him see those, who are now a Prey to all the Calamities of Want, who are starving with Hunger, and seeing their Wives and Children in the same Distress; expecting likewise every Moment to be thrown into a Dungeon, with the cutting Anguish that they leave their Families exposed to the utmost Necessity and Despair: Let him, I say, see these living under a sober and orderly Government, settled in Towns, which are rising at Distances along navigable rivers: Flocks and Herds in the neighbouring Pastures, and adjoining to them Plantations of regular Rows of Mulberry-Trees, entwined with Vines, the Branches of which are loaded with Grapes.”

One of the very first tasks for the new colony was the establishment of a public garden (or nursery) called the Trustees Garden. It was in this garden where all of the products for the new colony were to be generated including fruit trees, mulberry trees for silk worm production, produce, root crops, and grape vines. A site was selected and construction began in 1733. While the garden did produce well initially, its later productivity suffered due to poor soil conditions. It was later determined that the site selection was rather poor and was described by one critic as “a hill of sand’.

Prior to the arrival of the colonist, a botanist of distinction, Dr. William Houston (a correspondent of the great Linnaeus), was selected by the colony’s trustees to begin the process of choosing the varieties of grapes that were likely candidates for production at the Georgia colony. In 1732 the process of collecting the vines had begun and, during a visit to Madeira Houston wrote that he had sent, “Two tubs of cuttings of Malmsey and other vines to Charleston” for later shipment. It reasonable to assume the Maderian vines successfully made the journey to the Georgia colony because the trustees had already retained an agent to receive the vines in Charleston and supervise the inventory for the new garden. Dr. Houston was less fortunate, during the process of collection in Jamaica; he fell ill and died there in 1733, without ever seeing his new Eden.

The prospect of the Maderian vines coming into relatively close contact with pollen distributed from native vines, either by intentional crossing or accidentally, in the Trustees Garden is tantalizing, and further, as the history of this garden unwound the prospect for the dissemination of surviving type “A” hybrids only increased.

The Mystery of the Rulander

Munson had remarked in Foundations that the Type “B”, “Louisiana (or Rulander) was known in the Madeira Isles as Malmse, though not a true Malmse, before it was known in this country.” According to Munson’s historical reference the Louisiana (Rulander) was “asserted by M. Theard of New Orleans to have been imported from France and planted by his father near Lake Ponchartrain. The relationship between the Type “B” Bourquiniana and the Malmse was observed at the outset by Munson.

To further understand the likely time of the appearance of this alternate variety, it is important to note another interesting comment regarding one the Type “B” bourqinianas, the Warren. In a letter to Munson penned in August of 1887 Bourquin writes, “From all information that I have procured, the ‘Warren’ was found on the banks of a creek in South Carolina and from there carried to Upper Georgia at about the beginning of the present century”.

This fascinating exchange between Munson and Bourquin represents the best historical information available regarding the source of the variety in the South but the central questions remain. Bourquin’s testimony regarding the Warren may establish the geographic source and provide a rough timeline, in so much, that the Type B was hybridized and in the following 50 years had successfully escaped cultivation.

The potential link to Madeira and the Type “B” bourquiniana may be intrinsically tied to the earliest of the French settlers on the Atlantic sea coast and the relocation of at least a portion of these colonist to Madeira. Historical records show that, as some of the French colonies failed, the inhabitants were more than ready to quit the new world and the return to Europe but for the Calvinist, embittered by the events at the close of the 17th century, the return to France was not an option. The next best alternative for them was Madeira where they could live in relative safety and still practice their skills as vignerons. It is possible that the colonist had successfully transplanted at least one form of their hybrid to Madeira where three decades later it was collected by Dr. Houston and then returned to Charleston and ultimately to Georgia. This may be the only historical reference that lends any measure of credence to the theory of direct importation of any of the bourquinianas, and while it does address this potential in the “B” type there is no mention of the “A” type.

The Vital Role of the Huguenots

The French statue honoring Jules-Emile Planchon.

The French statue honoring Jules-Emile Planchon. The “vinegrower” holding up the grapes may have been modeled from an early photo of Thomas Munson.

The truth of the origin of the bourquiniana may reside with the history of the French Huguenots. Beginning in 1685, a large migration of French Huguenots to the New World had started following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Enacted by Louis IVX, the edict provided the Huguenots with protection from religious persecution in their native country. The removal of this protection spawned the massacre of tens of thousands of the Protestants and subsequent departure of thousands of Huguenots to various destinations around the world including the colonies of the new world. These hardworking, level headed peoples were highly sought after as candidates for the colonies due their skill in wine making. The English were quick to realize the opportunity and under the protection of King William the Huguenots were given a tract of 10,000 acres along the James River in the new Virginia Colony. By close of the year 1702 the French had succeeded in making a good quality Claret from native grapes. Although the community flourished initially, the Huguenots later found themselves hemmed in on all sides by (largely) unfriendly competing groups, and after a few years many of Frenchmen opted to relocate to Carolina.

In roughly the same three year period the Swiss investor, Jean Pierre Purry, had begun the process of moving Swiss and French Protestants to his new settlement in Carolina just a few miles north of Oglethorpe’s settlement on the banks of the Savannah River. Even though the Calvinist colony was established with strict orders to produce wine, no record survived with any indication that the planned vineyards were established or any wine was produced. Many of the residents of these colonies relocated south along the route of the Savannah River.

The Huguenot presence in the Carolina colony increased dramatically with the third major migration in 1764. Under the leadership of John Louis Gibert, yet another colony named “New Bordeaux” was established north of the Purrysburg settlement on Long Cane Creek, a tributary of the Savannah. There, on a 26,000 acre grant, the French began the surveying and construction of New Bordeaux. A second influx of refugee Huguenots arrived in 1768 lead by Louis de Mesnil de St. Pierre. St. Pierre’s original goal was to land at Nova Scotia, but fate and navigation problems landed his group at Carolina instead. Pierre’s arrival in New Bordeaux marked the first serious effort to produce wine in the region. He was so taken by the beauty of the settlement that he remarked the land “rose into gentle declivities, interspersed with delightful vales of small extent.” St. Pierre’s residence was constructed overlooking the vineyard at New Bordeaux and south into the hills of Georgia. He remarked in what had been the familiar pitfall of the early vignerons that “we may venture to pronounce the success infallible.” The colony then set about the pursuit of funding and a steady flow of vines and cuttings supplied from both Madeira and the European sources.

The relationship to the development of new world wines and the source for the bourquiniana will ultimately be linked to the history of the Huguenots. The Savannah River valley had become the epicenter of the activity involving the importation and planting of the doomed vinifera and was also prime habitat for flourishing native aestivalis. Added to this, the presence of the best vineyardist in the new world makes this valley the nexus of the origin of the Lenoir. All the conditions were right for either the breeding effort or the chance hybridization to take place.

Andrew Doz and the Chance Hybrids

Vitis berlandieri from Bell County Texas

Vitis berlandieri from Bell County Texas – photo plate 1883

Another discovery affirms that the chance hybrid theory of the Lenoir is certainly a plausible explanation when the Alexander hybrid was found growing near the remnants of the Andrew Doz vineyard.

In an account as presented by William Bartram, the stunning discovery of this hybrid was made in 1740 by James Alexander, then employed as gardener for Thomas Penn (son of William Penn). The vine was found growing along a wooded area adjacent to the vineyard established in 1683 by Andrew Doz for William Penn. This hybrid was a cross between an American grape and an unidentified vinifera, presumed to be labrusca x vinifera, and is the earliest recorded cross of its type.

Doz, a Huguenot, was naturalized in England and arrived at the colony in 1682. Shortly after arriving, Doz began the construction of the vineyard that would ultimately include 200 acres of vinifera and would later be described in 1684 by the German Pastorious as “a fine vineyard of French vines”. In 1690 the vineyard property was given over to Doz, and by all accounts, the great experiment was still underway seven years after the original planting.

Unlike many of the other colonist of the time, the Huguenots were able to understand the potential of the native grape for cultivation in the Americas. The ingenuity and skill with which these industrious and highly intelligent people managed the use of the native grapes is demonstrated by the early success of Gabriel Rappel in Pennsylvania who produced a fine grade Claret for William Penn, Jacob Pellison another of the Huguenot vineyardist, and Andrew Doz, the vineyardist who managed William Penn’s vinifera at the vineyard called Lemon Hill on the Schuylkill. William Penn pondered whether or not the planting vinifera was a workable plan and considered the option of native vines instead in the following passage from 1683;

‘Tis disputable with me, whether it be best to fall to fining the fruits of the country, especially the grape, by the care and skill of art, or send for foreign stems and sets, already good and approved. It seems most reasonable to believe, that not only a thing groweth best, where it naturally grows; but will hardly be equalled by another species of the same kind, that doth not naturally grow there. But to solve the doubt, I intend, if God give me life, to try both, and hope the consequence will be as good wine as any European countries of the same latitude do yield.

One aspect of the Lemon Hill enterprise that stands out in the early history of the Huguenot influence is that, clearly, the effort put forth by Doz and the apparent skill with which he proceeded would dictate that he, almost certainly, would have realized that the success of the vineyard would lie not with the vinifera, but rather the native grapes. The question whether or not Doz actively pursued the crossing of his vinifera with the natives will remain unanswered, but the discovery of the Alexander would seem to indicate that he did, in fact, include some collected varieties in his inventory of cultivated grapes.

All of the likely evidence points to the origin of the Lenoir as somewhere in the region of the settlements of New Bordeaux or Oglethorpe’s Georgia colony. The components of the historical evidence have several prerequisites for the creation of the hybrid. One of the clear requisites is that a vinifera must have been placed in close contact with a native aestivalis. Another, is those regions that included the heaviest importation of vinifera would logically present the most probable locations for the hybridization to have taken place. Lastly, the French Huguenots had the skill and knowledge of cultivation of the grape, the means of cultivation, and, at least, a minimal knowledge of water and fertilization requirements. Logic dictates that the early settlements populated by the French Huguenots are the most probable source for the hybrid. The highest likelihood resides in the discovery of an accidental hybrid, as in the case of the Alexander, and only an experienced vineyardist would have the knowledge to recognize the viability of the hybrid. A very likely occurrence would have been the discovery of the Lenoir as the only surviving vine in the vineyard; such was the level of failure of vinifera in the new world. The discovery may have been a much simpler process than the accidental identification of a vine in some remote area. As prior settlements failed and vineyards were abandoned, the new owners may have simply arrived to find the only surviving vines in the vineyard, the Lenoir.

Gougie Bourqiun’s correspondence indicating that the vine was brought into Savannah by early French settlers was most likely only partially correct. The historical record seems to indicate that the French only provided one component of the Lenoir and the other, the aestivalis, was here all along.

Now, the mystery remains that if Huguenots were the creators, or the discovers of the Lenoir, how was it that the trail of this marvelous hybrid found its way to Gougie Bourquin’s Savannah of the 1880’s?

The Smugglers

The question as to whether or not the Lenoir was introduced to the new world as a completed hybrid can be answered by understanding the period in France called ‘l’ experimentation anarchique des vignes americaines’, in which the French were embroiled in the war to defeat the great Phyloxxera plague and were busy testing native American vines as prospective root stock or grafting stock. When the great French ampleograher, Planchon returned to France from the United Sates in summer of 1873 he had a list of American species that had shown potential for limiting or curing the epidemic. Unfortunately the short list included selections such as ‘Clinton’ and ‘Concord’, cultivars that contained a high degree of labrusca lineage, and when fielded for testing, quickly failed due to lack of heat tolerance, insufficient Phyloxxera tolerance, and imparted a flavor to the wine that was despised by the French. Incredibly by the time the French realized that the Labrusca based vines were not viable, they had already imported, during the years of 1872 and 1873, over 700,000 of the cuttings, and millions had been wasted on grafting and planting of the labruscas. The whole process was quickly labeled “The Concord Disaster”. As detailed by Sahut, in his text from 1888, the French had become desperate for a solution and, as the situation deteriorated, the French government demanded a coordinated approach to ending the plague in a national effort called ‘la defense’. The French Parliament then issued a new set of laws in July 1878 and again in August of 1879 forbidding the importation of American vines and mandating the use of a new toxic treatment that included the use of carbon disulfide, a foul smelling, oily liquid. These treatments were met with deep suspicion and apprehension on the part of the French vineyardist. Not without good reason, as many of the early experiments indicated the disulfide treatments were effective against the Phyloxxera insect but, if applied incorrectly, frequently, had the undesirable side effect of killing the vines also.

Resistance to the expensive and unreliable application of CS2 had touched off riots and, in one case, resulted in the government treatment team being assaulted and chased out of the province where that had been sent to apply the chemical. Not only was the disulfide unreliable but it was also prohibitively expensive and immediately created a two tier system where only the wealthy vineyards could afford the experienced applicators who could provide the correct application methods and this left the smaller acreage vineyards waiting in an unending queue for assistance from the government sponsored treatment teams.

In response to this unworkable situation a new phase of the war on Phyloxxera had begun called the ‘la reconstitution’. In the face of national failure of ‘la defense’ the French vineyardist has taken the only avenue open to them and that was the smuggling of American vines into the various growing regions and replanting directly with American stock as stated by Larent:

“Public opinion was profoundly divided about action in face of the plague. The ‘sulfureurs’, among whom numbered the proprietors of the grand crus, are partisans of forced defense and manifest to excess the most vigorous hostility to the very idea of foreign vines. The ‘americanistes’, who comprise all the small proprietors of ordinary vines, having abandoned all defenses, or practicing them only half-heartedly in their best regions, desire on the contrary the reconstitution of the vignoble using the American vines.”

By the close of 1890 the successes of ‘la reconstitution’ had reestablished hundreds of failed vineyards and the mandated approaches of the government under ‘la defense’ were, virtually, all but completely ignored. Of the most sought after direct producers in this period for importation were the Jacquez and the Herbemont. The Jacquez is the French name for the Lenoir.

The importation and use of the Lenoir in the period of the ‘la reconstitution’ clearly establishes that the hybrid was not developed in the vineyards of Europe, but rather was created in the new world and then returned to France during the depths of the great Phyloxxera plague.

The Movement West

Volney’s Columbian Gold Medal from the Columbian Exposition in Chicago 1893

Volney’s Columbian Gold Medal from the Columbian Exposition in Chicago 1893

The westward migration of the Lenoir is somewhat more problematic. We can assume the incept date of the hybrid to have occurred somewhere in the years between 1730 and 1780, roughly coinciding with the dates of the establishment of the Huguenot colonies in Savannah River Valley, at Georgia and New Bordeaux in Carolina. Over the decades that followed the Lenoir had become the wine grape of choice for the southern US for obvious reasons. It had superior Phyloxxera resistance, heat tolerance and few disease problems. It could be propagated with relative ease and had seed viability that exceeded 90%. By the close of the 1700’s, the movement of the grape westward to Louisiana had already taken place, carried by the earliest of the French settlers, and the vine was clearly established as a reliable performer.

The next phase of migration of the Lenoir into Texas occurred during the great migration from the now established settlements of the Carolinas and Georgia in the southeastern United States into the largely unpopulated regions of the west. This massive historical movement of people occurred for several reasons. Poor farming practices had depleted the soil in what was still a rural farming based economy, and a nearly non-existent road system had meant that what crops the framers were able to produce frequently were undeliverable to market. By the close of 1850, the farming communities of these regions had been reduced to near starvation by population pressures on the available farmland, severe soil erosion and the collapse of commodity prices and with these events the major movement westward was underway.

The Royal Road to Texas

Medals from the Paris 1889 Exposition Universelle

A photo plate from 1890’s showing the Chevalier Medal (center) – The Wilder Medal (top) and the Gold Medal from the Paris 1889 Exposition Universelle

The key to understanding the discovery of the Lenoir in Del Rio Texas in 1883 by Frank Qualia, the original founder of the Val Verde Winery, rests with understanding of the migration routes of these early settlers to the west. As the thousands of settlers relocated, the routes west were poorly marked, very difficult to navigate and extremely rough. The few known routes that existed west of New Orleans were limited to a trail system called the “Camino Real” or “The Royal Road”. Modern historians now believe that the history of this 300 year old trail system dates even further back to Neolithic times, and was made up of the walking routes used by the Native American Indians. This system of passable trails was quickly adopted by a the French and Spanish traders that navigated the region between the Spanish outpost at Los Adaes (Natchitoches) in, what is now, Louisiana, and the crossing at Guerrero Mexico on the Rio Grande. At one point the Spanish had established a series of forts along the Camino Real to curtail French expansion into the area and used the Camino Real as the main communication route between these outposts. Following the establishment of the Treaty of Paris in 1763 the influence of the Spanish had begun to wane and by 1800 the Spanish had abdicated control of Louisiana and begun withdrawing from the eastern regions of the Camino.

As the Spanish withdrew the settlers flowed down the Camino Real into Texas, with them came the Lenoir.

It is no coincidence that one of the main branches of the Camino leads further west from the crossing at Guerrero to the area just south of Del Rio. It requires no great leap of faith to place French traders or settlers in the vicinity of Del Rio, as history shows that the Camino Real was used regularly by the French traveling to and from the southern end of the trail system and back to Natchitoches.

The Texas & Pacific Railroad Myth

The theory that the migration of the grape took place as a result of the expansion of the Texas and Pacific railroad is not viable for a number of reasons. One very clear reason is the great distance between the westerly route of the T&P Railroad and Del Rio. The expanse of territory stretches hundreds of miles and during the period of railroad construction was occupied by hostile Indians and had no road system to accommodate travel south to the area of the Rio Grande. Further, there are severe problems in accommodating a timeline whereby the Lenoir would arrive at Del Rio, become established, then possibly escape cultivation, and then be discovered growing there by Frank Qualia. This problem resides with the dates of construction of rail line in the western reaches of the state. The panic of 1873 had halted the construction of T&P leaving only 103 miles of track completed between Brookston Texas and Texarkana. Under the stewardship of Thomas A. Scott of Philadelphia, the railroad was forced to curtail its effort to connect to the now stalled transcontinental rail line and concentrate efforts closer to central and eastern parts of the state. In 1879 financier Jay Gould acquired controlling interest in T&P and in December of 1881 had completed 520 miles of track west of Fort Worth. If the Lenoir had moved with the expansion of the rail two years would hardly been enough time for the vine to have moved from the rail line, entered into cultivation, become established (and potentially escaped), and then be discovered by Frank Qualia.

This means that the only logical route of entry into Texas for the Lenoir was down the Camino Real from Louisiana to Del Rio and not westward along the Texas and Pacific Rail line.

The Real Black Spanish

For over one hundred years in Texas the primary source of confusion over the origin and nature of the Lenoir has been the mistaken assumption that what we currently call the “Black Spanish” grape was indeed the Black Spanish grape of the earliest Spanish settlers of Texas. In the late 1500’s Franciscan missionaries had begun to ply their way north from Mexico and had established footholds as far north as the Texas border along the Rio Grande river and further west into California. They had brought with them a vinifera grape, dubbed the Mission grape that produced a wine called Angelica that was used for the purposes of sacrament. In the Texas missions the Mission grape or, as it was alternately known the Criolla, was cultivated for a brief period in the 1600’s in the areas around the Rio Grande but even though the vine demonstrated reasonably good adaptability, it proved poorly suited to the blazing heat and extended droughts that were common along the arid range of southern Texas. Further, the Mission proved just as susceptible to Phyloxxera as the rest of the vinifera that had been planted in North America and quickly died out. The cultivation of the Mission grape was somewhat more successful in the more forgiving environment of California, and by 1850, 90% California of grape production was derived from this variety. Production from this old variety still comprises 1000 acres of vines in California.

A recent investigation of this imported Spanish variety was completed by the Centro de Biotechnologia (CNB) in Madrid, Spain. Through DNA matching the team, headed by Alejandra Milla Tapia revealed, in December of 2007, that the Mission grape, was in fact, the relatively unknown Spanish vinifera called the Listan Prieto. After extending the research to 79 genetic samples, that ranged as far as Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Spain, Argentina, and California, Tapia was able to establish that the grape was indeed an original Spanish vinifera that was synonymous with the varieties, Palomino Negro (currently heavily cultivated in the Canary islands), Pais (Chile), Criolla Chica (Argentina) Rosa del Peru (Peru) and Rose of Peru in California.

As with many odd quirks of history the Mission grape was given the common name of the Black Spanish for the obvious reasons that it originated in Spain and was in the possession of the Spanish in the very early phase of Texas history. But as Spanish influence decreased, and the Mission vines died off, the replanting effort was centered around a new variety supplied by the French traders coming south, down the Camino Real, carrying a new vine, better suited to the harsh environment, and capable of producing a much better grade of wine, the Lenoir.

As more settlers arrived during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s they discovered a vine growing there that was indeed a black grape and clearly the remnants of the Spanish influence were still present with the string of Catholic Missions along the border, so the Lenoir also was unwittingly, and quite incorrectly, named the “Black Spanish”.

Bourquin’s Riddle

In summation, the solution to the riddle of the Lenoir does require the enlightened oenophile to make a few leaps of faith. However, none of the leaps require stepping out of the bounds of reason.

Clearly, the trail of this important player in the past (and perhaps the future) of grape cultivation in Texas will have its roots somewhere in the Savannah river valley originating in the time period between 1730 and 1780, and will, ultimately, be acknowledged as inseparably tied to skill and intelligence of the Huguenot settlers to either New Bordeaux or Oglethorpe’s Georgia settlements.

As far as the period of westward movement is concerned, the great migration of 1850 would have seen thousands of settlers moving out of the areas that now comprise the Carolinas and Georgia through the state of Louisiana and into the only existing route at the time westward, the Camino Real. The possibility of an earlier introduction of the Lenoir to Texas remains an open issue because of the incursion of the French Traders into Texas during the 1700’s. Of very high certainty is the fact that if the vine hadn’t arrived by end of 18th century it was most probably transported as a prime staple of the emigrants of 1850.

One Sunny Day

Just as with the discovery of the Alexander grape, surly, the Lenoir was found one sunny day growing, perhaps, in an abandoned vineyard left behind by some earlier adventurer in the losing battle to establish the vinifera as the grape of the new world, the vines having received the touch of divine intervention by the gentle movement of pollen from some overgrown border of the vineyard, knotted with native aestivalis. Or alternately, the Lenoir may have been the product of some vigneron with enough clarity of thought to realize that the future of wine grapes in this wild new country resided in melding of the genetics of the vinifera and the aestivalis and proceeded to conduct an intentional hybridization. The knowledge and means to accomplish this intentional hybrid was certainly present, in the hands of the Huguenots. If the creation of the Lenoir was the product of the mind of an early pioneer, instead of an act of nature, the exact identity of the vineyardist responsible may remain forever lost in time.

R.L. Winters
Fairhaven Vineyards
Hawkins, Texas


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