FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

Return of the Native

In 1988, Virginia winemaker Dennis Horton traveled back to his home state of Missouri to examine samples of the Norton grape, a hybrid developed from native American grapes. The Norton had flourished in Virginia in the 19th century, but during Prohibition it was wrenched from the Virginia landscape. Horton brought cuttings back to Virginia to plant in his vineyard near Gordonsville. His first vintage in 1992 produced promising results.

Norton clusters

Norton clusters

Norton grapes, known for their thick, black skins, grow in small, compact clusters and are hardy enough to withstand Virginia’s varied conditions, from summer heat and humidity to winter frosts and spring rains.

Jennifer McCloud surveying her Norton vineyard, 2011

Jennifer McCloud surveying her Norton vineyard, 2011

The trellising system—the way the vines are supported on a framework—allows the grapes to hang near the top of the vine where breezes keep the clusters from developing mildew.

Norton harvest, 2011

Norton harvest, 2011

Fredy Villalobos and Fernando Nolazco picking Norton grapes

Picking Basket

At Chrysalis, the workers wear the same type of basket traditionally used during Virginia’s apple harvest. Because the grapes are high on the vines, the baskets, worn across the chest, can be filled without workers having to stoop to remove the clusters. Gift of Jennifer McCloud.

View object record

Picking knife, 2011

This razor knife effectively cuts the tough stems of the Norton. Because the grapes are relatively high on the trellis, workers can cut them at eye level. Gift of Jennifer McCloud.

View object record