The Interpretive Grape Garden
The Interpretive Grape Garden will be a site-specific, public-memory installation that focuses on the city's early history (and 'pre-' history) through the grape. It should be located near the Los Angeles River and near the site of the Indigenous settlement of Yangnaa and in an area of the city where wineries once operated. The Los Angeles State Historic Park, located in near streets named after local winemakers that attest to the city's role in early California winemaking, would be an ideal site. The LASHP is also near California's oldest living vine, the 170-year-old Viña Madre at El Pueblo de Los Angeles National Monument. Winemaking continues to take place today in the area, most notably at the historic San Antonio Winery and the more recently established Angeleno Wine Company.
Layout of the Garden
The Grape Garden will be divided into three vineyards: the Indigenous Vineyard, which will feature the native Desert Wild grape; the Spanish Vineyard, which will feature the winemaking Mission grape; and the Hybrid Vineyard, which will be planted with the Vina Madre grape. Traditional indigenous fencing, which weaves woody vegetation with tree and brush branches, will be erected to section off the different parts of the Garden.
In 1769, the Junipero Serra expedition arrived in Los Angeles. The man who kept a journal of the expedition, Father Juan Crespi, wrote about observing an abundance of wild grapes that seemed to him "arranged almost as if they had been planted." This statement may reflect a lack of knowledge about the ways in which Indigenous peoples shaped the landscape, and can provide a jumping off point for the design of this part of the Grape Garden. The Indigenous Vineyard will be planted with the native Desert Wild grape according to Indigenous agricultural processes.
This part of the Grape Garden recalls the vineyards that characterized the landscape of pre-industrial Los Angeles during it's winemaking heyday. The Spanish Vineyard will be planted with the winemaking Mission grape and be arranged in rows according to the winegrowing practice of the time. Through this section of the Grape Garden, we acknowledge the symbolic weight for the local Indigenous people who, under duress, planted and cared for the early vineyards of L.A. We also remember here the work and sacrifice of the Chinese and Mexican immigrants who joined them in the vineyards as the industry continued to grow.
Vina Madre Vineyard
This part of the Grape Garden will feature a Pergola that replicates a section of the vine-covered walkway built by Jean-Louis Vignes, the father the California wine industry. The walkway stretched a quarter-mile from his winery, which was located where Union Station is today, to the Los Angeles River. Built some time after his arrival in 1831, the Vignes Walkway was the first built tourist attraction in L.A., pre-dating the Hollywood sign by about a century. This Vineyard will be planted to the Vina Madre grape, itself a reflection of L.A.'s own unique culture — a hybrid of many.
The Time Garden
Another possibility for the Indigenous Vineyard is to create a Time Garden. In this arrangement, a wooden chair, or other Western furniture object, would be placed in the center of the space, and the native vines would then grow up and over it, eventually returning it to nature. A stop-action camera would be bolted to the spot, which would film the growth of the vines through the years, as well as the decomposition of the furniture object. The Time Garden would be a contemplation on time and healing. While specifically referencing the Indigenous people of the area, it will point to a wider conversation about decolonization and the history of trauma experienced by diverse communities in Los Angeles.
The Hybridization Lab
The Hybridization Lab would be planted with a number of different hybrids, both those already existing and those in development to help the wine industry adapt to increasing heat and drought conditions. By the creation of the Lab, the Interpretive Grape Garden will signal a commitment to work with winegrowers and a variety of scientists and researchers as the world faces increasing challenges to the planet's survival.
Grapes have been at the center of labor struggles in California from the time of the missions. It was in the planting and harvesting of grapes that the Kizh Gabrieleno/Tongva lost their freedom in the 1700s, and it was around the grape that Filipino and Chicano migrant farmworkers, led by Larry Itliong, Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez formed the United Farm Workers. Cesar Chavez Blvd. runs within a half mile of the Los Angeles State Historic Park.
The Willowbrook Vineyard
In 2018, the members of the Willowbrook Community Garden planted the first vineyard. Willowbrook is a community in South L.A. bordered by Watts, Compton and Athens Park. It has an interesting grape history. Grape Street itself runs through it, and Vineyard Avenue runs not far to the west. Parmalee Avenue, named after a wine-making family in the area with ties to the Bush political family, runs nearby. French Canadian Remy Nadeau, who from 1869 to 1882 ran 20-mule teams teams carrying silver and borax from the Mojave Desert and Death Valley to Los Angeles, also had a nearby holding of vineyards growing Mission grapes. Not just a street, but a whole neighborhood is named after him.
Before that, Anastasio Avila grew grapes in the area on his Rancho La Tajauta, indigenous land that was granted to him in 1843 by Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltorena, land on which the Willowbrook Community Garden sits today. Anastasio was a younger brother to Francisco Avila, who built the Avila House in the Pueblo de Los Angeles and who planted a vineyard in 1821 on the site of what is today the Los Angeles State Historic Park.
Last year, the Community Gardeners in Willowbrook celebrated their first vintage, a pink wine made from Mission grapes, the workhorse grape of the California wine industry when it was based in L.A. They invited the whole neighborhood and it was a joyous occasion, with community members emerging from the pandemic to find themselves living in wine country! The Garden has since hosted wine tastings with the South L.A. Wine Club and started a winemakers series with South L.A. regenerative winemaker Adam Huss. Now they are trying to expand the vineyard, tripling it in size!
Rose Pinkney, the organizer
of the Willowbrook Community Garden, and Ned at the garden. Rose doesn't usually wear bunny ears, but it was during one of the Easter parties that she organizes
for the children in the community.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PLACE
While working in the wine industry, I became interested in the idea of terroir, of wine as a place indicator, reflective not just of terrain and soil, exposure, altitude and annual precipitation, but of traditions of farming and winemaking, of history and local culture. During a hiatus from my job selling wine, I turned my attention to my adopted city. I had learned only just recently that L.A. had once been the epicenter of the first California wine industry, with vineyards of Spanish grapes having grown just about everywhere I looked. And it inspired me to wonder what Los Angeles was like in those days. What would life have been like when Los Angeles was known as the City of Vines? Were the people who worked in the vineyards and wineries able to feed their families? How did the social, economic and political environment of Los Angeles back then shape the ideas and aspirations of the people who lived here? In other words, what was the terroir, not just of the wine but of the people?