New ‘Life’ for a 150-Year-Old Las Vegas Vine

OldVine02As we pulled up to the entrance of the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park, it quickly became apparent that we weren’t the only wine geeks who had come to gawk at a 150-year-old grapevine, as we described in yesterday’s blog.

A young man wearing a bright yellow vest walked up to the driver-side window and said, “Sorry, our parking lot is full.” He then pointed to a lot across the street and said, “If you’ll go over there, they’ll direct you to a spot.”

After parking and grabbing a couple bottles of water — something you want to do in the desert even if you plan to be out in the sun for only a few minutes — we trekked back across the street and were greeted by three folks sitting at a table that had been positioned amidst some much-appreciated shade.

“That’ll be $1 per person,” one of the people said. “Can I answer any questions?”

“We’re looking for the 150-year-old grapevine,” I answered.

My reply was greeted by a quizzical expression. “You know, I don’t actually work here,” he said. “But my wife is a docent, and you should find her right over there.”

We followed the man’s finger but, alas, did not find a docent. However, we did find a pretty cool-looking grape arbor, and Michelle snapped a few photos to share with our Vinesse Today blog followers.

While she was doing that, I spotted a park ranger, and approached him.

“Excuse me,” I said. “We’re looking for the 150-year-old grapevine.”

He paused for a moment, surveyed the landscape, and then pointed toward a building inside the fort’s walls. “You see that building over there?” he said. “It’s just on the other side of that.”

So we strolled over to the place he had described, and came face to face with another arbor — not as long as the one we’d just seen, but almost fully covered with leaves. Could this, indeed, be the 150-year-old grapevine?

I took a close look, and it quickly became apparent it was not. The arbor was created by using the growth of several vines, and not one of them looked anywhere near “gnarly” enough to be even 75 years of age, let alone twice as old.

Then I spotted a docent — it may or may not have been the husband of our greeter at the gate — and informed her of what we were looking for. She was honest enough to admit that she did not know the answer. “But I think I know someone who does,” she said.

So she took us inside a modern building adjacent to the fort, which was air-conditioned and housing a number of displays. Around the corner we went, and behind a counter stood a park ranger wearing a nametag imprinted “Beth.”

OldVine03Could this be the same Beth — last name: Hewitt — featured in last summer’s newspaper story about the grapevine?

It was.

So I told her what I’d told the greeter at the gate, the first park ranger we’d encountered, and the docent who had led us to the counter: “We’re looking for the 150-year-old grapevine.”

She paused a moment before answering, as if to prepare us for some bad news, and in a resigned voice spoke four words that — for a reason I can’t fully explain — saddened me deeply: “It didn’t make it.”

I asked what had happened.

“Thanks to N-DOT [the Nevada Department of Transportation], we were able to re-plant it here [at the fort],” she said. “In September, it looked like it was going to make it. But it went down quickly after that and died.”

Besides being saddened, I also was somewhat confused. I didn’t ask Ms. Hewitt, but I was wondering why the fort was so crowded if the 150-year-old grapevine had died 10 months earlier.

As we were exiting the fort, I saw this sign: “Pioneer Day.” The fort’s parking lot — and a good chunk of the parking lot across the street — wasn’t filled with cars belonging to wine geeks, but rather with vehicles belonging to families who’d come out to view special presentations, hear live music, ride a train around the grounds, and nosh on “the world’s greatest corn dogs.”

While the news I’d been given about the death of the grapevine crushed me, Ms. Hewitt had given me one piece of hopeful information: Cuttings from the vine had been donated to Sanders Family Winery in Pahrump, Nev., about 45 minutes away.

That does not mean that the grapevine will be brought back to life. What it does mean is that new grapevines with much of its DNA will have an opportunity to produce grapes, and those grapes will be able to be used for making wine — much like Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Vineyard has done with its “Heritage Vines” Zinfandel.

In the great scheme of things, that’s probably the best one could expect from a 150-year-old grapevine.

– – – – – – – – – –

Once we have an opportunity to check out the Sanders Family Winery project, we’ll let you know how those cuttings are doing.

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Our Wine Travel Log
2 comments on “New ‘Life’ for a 150-Year-Old Las Vegas Vine

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