Sunday, February 21, 2010

Evolutionary Tinkerer-T.V. Munson "The Grape Man of Texas"

The past few years I began to look around for books concerning evolution in practice. I had read a lot of Dawkins, Mayr, and Jared Diamonds books about evolution. However I wanted to switch from that type of learning to learning from people who were doing things where they used evolution in their everyday life. As far as I know Dawkins does not use evolution to think about the things he should and shouldn't eat, nor is he any type of doctor, geneticist, or grower that is using evoultionary ideas in his everyday life. His evolutionary life seems confined to academia. What I found in my search was a book about a man who was the quintessential evolutionary doer: T.V. Munson. His most famous work was Foundations of American Grape Culture originally published in the early 1900's and still in use today.

I know for a fact Elmer Swenson, the pioneer of the Minnesota wine industry, used what he learned from Munson's book to begin adapting cold hardy grapes to the Minnesota climate. I have been to a few of the wineries/vineyards here in Minnesota like the Cannon Valley winery, and they are making some really excellent wines and growing great tasting grapes. I learned a rather good evolutionary principle by reading Foundations of American Grape Culture where he talks about how breeders will often take their "star" vines and hybridize them together, which Munson argues leads them towards greater and greater fragility. He argues that the best method of hybridizing is to match the vines that are strong at certain characteristics, with vines that compensate for areas in which the star vine is weak.

I would like to start growing my own vines in the next couple years. I started a garden for the first time last year with good success and my wife and I made our own wine this year(with purchased grape must) as we are just wetting our feet.

I want to learn about natural systems by doing. Louis Pasteur when he discovered germs and came up with his germ theory of disease wasn't a doctor, he was working for the French wine and poultry industries.

For any interested in learning about Munson, his only biography was written by Sherrie. S McLeRoy and Roy E. Renfro, titled The Grape Man of Texas.

There is really interesting passage from Foundation of American Grape Culture that I wanted to share that I think tells me a lot about T.V. Munson the person. He entitled it "Personal Qualifications Necessary in the Originator." Which he meant to mean those who would take up the practice of hybridizing and breeding grape vines. He said :
"This work requires not only theoretical knowledge, but also direct personal knowledge, experience, skill, and much of the intentive faculty, with great patience and perserverence, without the stimulus of money-making in it, for there is little to the originator. There is no law providing protection to the inventions(varieties) of an originator, as there is to the less meritorious mechanical inventor. The originator must have a great fund of enthusiasm, and an ambition to add something to the general fund of human development for the benefit of the world at large, and, that he may reap some some personal compensation, or enjoyment, he must have an intense love of close communion with nature, causing him to admire the infinite correlated life movement; to study the loves and hates prevailing in all organic life and growth, discovering the great fundamental turth in ethics, as well as in the development of organic bbeings, that love breeds life, hate breeds death."(pages 129-130 of Foundations of American grape Culture.

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