Old Vine Grapes – A Monster of a Plant

Imagine bringing letters to a mailbox standing

inside the evil aura of this grape vine monster.

Grape plants like this have been growing in Lodi since the early 1900s. Last winter we spotted this plant on East Kettleman Street (Highway 12) on the east side of town. We wondered what kind of grape it produced. Was this one of the old vine plants touted by winemakers in the area? What kind of wine would come from such a plant?California Bottle of Wine

During a recent visit we stopped to photograph the leaves, the fingerprints of the plant, for a winemaker to identify.

While standing near this gargantuan grape plant a frail Japanese woman emerged from the house nearby, gently shuffling down the driveway with her walker. Here is the answer we seek.

“Oh those grapes are such a nuisance, my husband planted them after World War II. They are Tokay grapes he farmed. But he’s gone now and they’re a bit of a chore to maintain.” According to her the two were interned during the war, returning to Lodi afterwards to restart their lives. Flame Tokay grapes were a staple at the time and they commenced to growing the grape.

As late as 1974, 2.7 million boxes of Flame Tokay grapes were grown in Lodi each year. By 1990 Lodi’s production had fallen to 100,000 boxes according to the Lodi News. It seems the seedless grape, which flourished in Southern California, took the market away from the Flamed Tokay and the farmers who grew them.

‘As you take in the plant’s scope, it’s size, you realize this grape plant represents the life cycle of the family.’

Like many businesses in the past, the farmers began planting grapes they could sell, plants like Zinfandel and Syrah. Now, there are 100,000 acres of premium wine grape growing in the Lodi appellation.

As you take in the plant’s scope, it’s size, you realize this grape plant represents the life cycle of the family. Pushing sprouts out in the spring, then flourishing, then shedding dying leaves in the fall, the plant following a yearly ritual begun after World War II. Similar to the family cycle, in spring time and mom & dad form a fresh union and field children who grow up. But then comes fall time, the father’s gone, mom lives in the shadow of the plants and all the children have moved away and started their own families.

In the meantime, here in Lodi, the plants that provided sustenance to a family growing up in California continue with their year to year ritual.

Bill Hodge & Erin O’Neill-Hodge enjoy a good bottle of wine, visiting and enjoying California wineries from Lake County to Orange County, from the Paso Robles Gold Coast to Gold Country and from Lodi to Temecula.