by Fred McMillin
for August 27, 1997

The Flood and the Vine

Prologue: Prince Albert had initiated the Deluge Series about 1835. Now I was gazing at the three monumental oil paintings on display together for the first time this century at the San Francisco Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum. British painter John Martin's apocalyptic trilogy showed his vision before, during and after the Biblical downpour. The brilliance of the third, "The Assuaging of the Waters," with the raven and dove finding land far from the ark, prompted this thought. Genesis tells us Noah soon "planted a vineyard." So, what varietal should I serve in my wine history course as we cover these matters???

The Rest of the Story: First, when was the flood? Clay will help us guess. In the "Epic of Gilgamesh;" the Babylonian Noah Utnapishtim tells us that after the flood subsided and the ark was grounded, he had opened the window and found "all mankind had turned to clay. The ground was flat like a roof."

Now we fast forward to 1929. From Mesopotamia Sir Charles Leonard Woolley sends an extraordinary telegram that soon flashed around the world: "We have found the flood." He had found a ten-foot-thick layer of clay that ultimatedly proved to be 100 miles wide and 400 miles long. He concluded it was deposited about 4000 B.C.

Taking Sir Charles at his word, then do we have today a grape that may be a descendant of Noah's vine? I'll nominate the Muscat of Alexandria, which noted authority Jancis Robinson tells us is "exceedingly ancient...one of the most ancient cultivated plants we know." Other authorities have concluded that the dominant wine grape at that time was a white Muscat (the Alexander is a white Muscat). So, my class tasted and liked...

1996 Sutter Home Moscato (Muscat of Alexandria)
Contact: Stan Hock, (707) 963-3104
Type: Dessert wine; serve with peach sorbet and crisp sugar cookies.
$5.50 (great bargain for such a sip of history)

Postscript: Mrs. Woolley deserves much credit in this story. Her husband had come out of the 50-foot-deep shaft, and told her about the thick layer of clay, with ruins of civilitation both above and beneath it. While he was considering all manner of possible explanations, it is said that she simply remarked, "I'm going to lunch. You've found the Flood!"

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

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