THE TRAGIC TALE OF THE DONNER-REED PARTY OF 1846 IS A WELL KNOWN EVENT. A WAGON TRAIN ON THE OREGON TRAIL TOOK A SHORTCUT, GOT STRANDED IN THE MOUNTAINS, AND STARVED THERE FOR FIVE MONTHS. WHAT IS LESS KNOWN IS HOW WINE BOOKENDS THIS STORY. THE STORY BEGINS, IN THEIR HOMELAND ILLINOIS, A PLACE OF SETTLED FARMS AND LOTS OF GRAPE GROWING FOR WINE. (MANY OF THE DONNER-REED PARTY TRAVELERS EVEN BROUGHT WINE WITH THEM ON THE TRAIL.) ON THE OTHER END OF THEIR JOURNEY WAS FORT SUTTER IN CALIFORNIA, A PLACE RICH WITH ITS OWN DISTILLERY, WINERY AND VINEYARDS...IF ONLY THEY COULD GET THERE. THE HORRORS EXPERIENCED BY THESE FAMILIES CAN BE UNDERSTOOD THROUGH THE SYMBOLIC CERTAINTY AND SECURITY REPRESENTED IN A GLASS OF WINE.
WESTWARD & VITIS AESTIVALIS/ VINIFERA
The travelers departed from Illinois, a place of settled farms and lots of indigenous grape growing for wine. Many members of the Donner- Reed Party wagon train even brought wine with them on the trail. The wine they were most likely drinking while they made their way west came from the Norton Grape, an American vine native to eastern North America, that never became as popular as its European vine brethren.
GRAPE: Norton grape
LOCATION: Virginia, U.S.A
STYLE & STRUCTURE: An uncommon strain of grape vine that creates complex wines full of spice and red fruit
CHOPIN SALON & TOKAJI
To contextualize this era of wild west and pioneers in America, we visit France where Chopin entertained intellectuals in the salons of Paris. In a more established European capital, we see a society which can think beyond survival and indulge in music, art, philosophy, and wine.
LOCATION: Tokaj, Hungary
STYLE & STRUCTURE: Sweet wine made from noble rot
RESCUE & THE MISSION GRAPE
After 3 months of harsh winter in the Truckee Lake area of Nevada, search teams financed by John Sutter in California begin to search for the stranded wagoneers. The rescue teams came from land where the mission grape provided wine for all of California. Originally brought to the U.S. by Spanish monks, the mission grape now thrives in Chile.
GRAPE: Listan Prieto
LOCATION: Canary Islands or Chile
STYLE & STRUCTURE: Dark skinned grape producing tart, fresh and light bodied red wines