Have you ever tasted history? You’ve probably read and heard about history, and you may have thought you smelled history when Grandma opened that old chest in the attic. But tasting history?
For the next few days, the San Joaquin County Historical Society and Museum is offering the public an opportunity to taste the past in the form of Flame Tokay grapes. On the Museum’s grounds is a small vineyard of Tokays planted in 1922 by William G. Micke, a local fruit grower and the donor of Micke Grove Regional Park, and cultivated in recent years by Museum staff.
Grape growing has been a part of San Joaquin County life since Gold Rush days. However, it didn’t thrive until the opening of the twentieth century, when local farmers discovered several varieties especially suited to the region. One of these was the Flame Tokay grape, whose popularity survived the enactment of Prohibition in 1919. Not only could Tokays be fermented into wine, distilled into brandy, or fortified into port and sherry, they were also a delicious table grape capable of surviving the long trip to eastern markets.
The end of Prohibition in 1933 marked the rebirth of Lodi’s wine industry. However, consumer tastes shifted away from sweet wines during the 1940s, and the market for Tokays dropped. Their popularity suffered even more with the development of table grapes that, unlike Tokays, did not contain seeds. Today, only a tiny fraction of San Joaquin County acreage dedicated to grape vines is planted in Tokays, though the name can still be seen on various landmarks in and around Lodi.
For a taste from the past, put on your hat, pick up a bucket, and come to the Museum’s vineyard during regular hours over the next week for a sample of Flame Tokay grapes.