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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

EAST TEXAS SAVIOR OF
THE FRENCH WINE INDUSTRY

Dr. Thomas Volney Munson

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
Those who favor a glass of wine, especially French wine, may not be aware of the debt they and the French owe to Dr. Thomas Volney Munson of Denison, Texas.

Munson was born in Astoria, Illinois, in 1843. Even as a child he demonstrated an interest in growing things; eventually, he focused on grapes, which he called “the most beautiful, most wholesome and nutritious, most certain and profitable fruit that can be grown.”

Munson studied agriculture at the University of Kentucky, and after marrying Ellen Scott Bell in 1870, worked in her family’s nursery business until moving his family to Lincoln, Nebraska, to begin a horticultural practice. There he observed that cultured grapes had difficulty surviving harsh winters, pests, and diseases, but that native plants thrived despite these problems. Denison, Texas, offered Munson better climate for growing grapes, so he moved there in 1876. He traveled extensively collecting rootstock and eventually had over 300 varieties growing in his vineyard. Munson also continued formal study of agriculture, and earned a master of science degree from the State Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky.

Munson’s stature as a horticulturist increased following exhibitions of his work in professional shows, including the Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. And his reputation reached Europe, where as much as eighty percent of the vineyards suffered from the fungus parasite odium. First the French imported labrusca rootstock from the United States, but that only introduced another problem, phylloxera, a plant louse.

Then the French vintners turned to Munson, whose work had produced a rootstock resistant to phylloxera to which they could graft different varieties of grapes to produce a variety of wines. Glory, it worked.

Sometimes the French and the Americans are close friends and sometimes not, but they surely loved Munson. The French Government sent a delegation to Denison to award him the French Legion of Honor Chevalier de Merite Agricole, and he became a member of the Societe d’Agriculture de France and an honorary member of the Societe des Viticulteurs de France.

If you enjoy French wine, how about a toast to Thomas Volney Munson, the transplanted Texan whose transplanting saved France.
© Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical
June 5, 2006 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.)
 
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