My Uncle Tom

There are moments in your life when everything comes completely into focus, when all of the confusion of your past clears in one instant and suddenly you understand exactly who you are. For me, that moment came last night when my dad dropped a bomb about our family genealogy.

“Have you ever heard of Thomas Volney Munson?” he asked.

As I walked home I tried to recollect meeting a Thomas at any one of our more recent family gatherings. But as I ticked through the reunions, I realized most of our extended family mixers have always stemmed from my mother’s side and not the Munson branch. The gatherings I recall typically involved me standing in a room surrounded by dark-haired Italian men brandishing large pinky rings and wondering where exactly I fit in with my blue eyes and blond hair. 

“No. Who is that?” I asked.

“He is the savior of the French wine industry,” my dad explained. “He has roots in Lincoln, Nebraska.” (My dad’s hometown growing up.)

Apparently, T.V.  Munson was a world renowned horticulturist born in 1843 in Illinois who grew up to develop more than 300 different grape varieties across the American Southwest and South. He moved to Texas from Nebraska where the climate allowed him to better pursue his studies of the perfect fruit. His love of grapes and extensive collection of rootstock garnered attention from French vintners in the late 1800s whose own vineyards were suffering from a parasite that threatened to ruin the entire wine industry. And just who did the French turn to in crisis? Munson! 

He had produced a rootstock resistant to phylloxera that was widely imported by the French and ultimately saved the industry from collapsing. Munson was later inducted into the French Legion of Honor. Imagine my surprise and delight upon hearing the news that somewhere along the way … I am related to this man. I am so honored. It is like finding out you are related to Gandhi. The Kennedy’s. Or Sarah Jessica Parker.

Suddenly, it all made sense. All the “Life is too short to drink bad wine” magnets plastered on my parents’ fridge and embroidered on throw pillows my mom collects. The wine glass my mom sent me after I was dumped that had the words: “I don’t need a man when I have my wine” painted on the side. The way my dad flipped out at the San Diego Airport when security told him he couldn’t bring an unopened bottle of champagne on the plane. My personal affinity for chardonnay. And zinfandel. Pinot noir. Sauvignon blanc. Syrah …

So I am in the midst of planning my next roadtrip. Destination: Denison, Texas.  First to pay homage to my dear Uncle Tom. Then onwards to Paris. (Texas) Where there is apparently a Munson Wine Trail that includes stops at nearly a dozen local vintners.

Afterwards, I will try to coax someone at the T.V. Munson Viticulture & Enology Center at Grayson County College to give me a rootstock I can plant back in California. I am also trying to convince my parents to sell their home in Massachusetts and buy a vineyard here. I have offered to quit my job and assist in all the production (and tastings.)

I think I was born to be in the business. Because it turns out I have roots in wine production on my mother’s side as well. When her family first arrived in America from Italy they brought vines which have been flourishing for decades. My mother has a clipping that she is currently investigating how to cultivate. Perhaps one day, decades from now, my own grandchildren will be able to emerge from their basement, bottle of wine in hand, pour a glass and remember exactly where they came from.

3 thoughts on “My Uncle Tom

  1. kmunsey

    Your blog was emailed to me by a friend. I manage Homestead Winery in Denison, Texas. I eat, breath and live Homestead. If I had not lucked in to a job there I would probably still be jumping from one job to the next still looking for my place in life. I mention T.V. Munsons name probably everyday I am at work. I am very serious about promoting Texas wine and I am sure he would sing its praises also. Please look me up when you do visit Texas, I would love to meet you.


  2. Hi Chandra,

    Thanks so much for writing! I will definitely look you up when I get to Denison. I am really excited about learning more about the Texas wine industry and tasting some of the wines there. (And of course learning more about T.V. Munson.) When my flight plans are finalized I will call ahead to make sure you are going to be at Homestead when I arrive. In the meantime, I will raise a glass in honor of T.V.

    Best wishes,


  3. I did not know you had a wine guy in the family. That’s exciting. Oh, and let your parents know, if they’re interested in relocating, my parents were wine tasting recently and saw that Westside Farms is for sale. It’s an amazing piece of land!

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