A History of Forgetting
Los Angeles began to industrialize when it was connected in 1876 to the rest of the country via the transcontinental railroad. At the time,
three quarters of its population was employed in some facet of the wine industry. And yet this part of the city’s history, and the people who lived it, are often left out of the story we tell of Los Angeles. Their stories, and the stories of those who preceded them, are the focus of the Interpretive Grape Garden in the Los Angeles State Historic Park.
Through an arrangement of three related, historically significant grapes, and associated educational programs and interpretive tours, the Interpretive Grape Garden will trace this early period of Los Angeles history. It will have accessible pathways and shaded areas with seating in order to provide a setting for contemplation and healing.
The Los Angeles Grape
Before other European winemaking grapes were being planted in large numbers, there were two principal winemaking grapes in California, and they were both called Mission. Because of clonal drift, these two grapes were different biotypes of the same grape, and they came from different places and arrived by different routes. One came from Mexico with the Spanish settlers and was first planted in southern California; the other arrived a little later, from Peru, via a Russian explorer named Kyrill T. Khlebnikov, and was planted in northern California. Though related, the two grapes had different characteristics, and they went by different names. The northern Mission grape was called either the Sonoma grape or Rosa del Peru; the southern Mission grape was called either Mission, or simply the Los Angeles grape.
Plant the Vine was started by Ned Teitelbaum, a community gardener and urban history buff who lives in Koreatown with his wife, set painter and artist Kathryn Villeneuve. He has an MFA in Film from USC and a BA from Columbia in Comparative Literature. Before that, he attended high school in Rome, where he became aware of the narrative of cities and how they grow through different periods of history, each of which leaves reminders of the past. Ned’s own narrative includes stints as a comedy writer for animated television, a journalist and an advocate for small, independent winegrowers in Italy.
DNA UNCOVERS A MYSTERY
In 2014, scientists at the Plant Identification Lab at UC Davis applied genetic sequencing to the oldest living grapevine in California — the Vina Madre at the Avila House, in the heart of L.A.'s old city center. To the surprise of those who had ascribed to the assumption that the vine was of the Spanish winemaking variety called Mission, the vine turned out to be a hybrid, a fusion of the native Desert Wild grape (Vitis girdiana) and the Mission (Vitis vinifera). This hybrid grape is also known, somewhat confusingly, as Mission, so that the taxonomic formula for the hybrid grape looks like this:
Desert Wild grape (V. girdiana) x Mission grape (V. vinifera) =
Mission (V. girdiana x V. vinifera cv. 'Mission')
The idea for the Interpretive Grape Garden comes directly from this taxonomic equation. All three grapes are in it, and each can be identified with a different period of early L.A. history — from the Tongva to the Spanish to the Mexican — before it became the American metropolis that it has grown into today.