October 15, 2010

Grapes Among the Ruins: A McElmo Canyon Vineyard

Looking at the books on sale at the Navajo National Monument visitor center, M. commented on how books about Navajo art, culture, etc. were on one side while pertaining to the Hopis and other Pueblo peoples were on the other.

Books on ethnobotany were on both sides, however, and I went away with one:Wild Plants and Native People of the Four Corners.

We always want to learn more about Southwestern gardening and to expand our knowledge of useful plants. In fact, the book inspired me to one experiment that I hope to blog later.

As for the Anasazi, who built the cliff dwellings that the monument preserves, they ate mush. Corn mush, ricegrass mush, bean mush, whatever. It sounds like the most boring (and nutritionally risky) diet ever on which to construct large stone buildings, trek across the landscape on ceremonial pathways, and otherwise carry on daily life.

If I am correct, a thousand years ago they did not even have chile peppers to give the mush some zing.

Animal protein? No buffalo in the area, just deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn antelope. Given the high population levels before the Great Collapse, which must have meant a lot of agile hunters with bows and throwing sticks, I suspect that those animals numbers were low and that venison was a rare treat indeed.

Even if you brought down a cottontail rabbit with your throwing stick, it probably had to be split eight ways.

But if they had grown grapes, their joie de vivre might have improved.

Switch on the alternative-history machine: Spanish explorers in the 16th century encounter Pueblo peoples whose cool, inmost rooms contain big clay ollas decorated in black-on-white Chaco designs where the wine is stored.

Later arrivals bring other European grapes, and in protected regions of the San Juan plateau the vineyards thrive. Chaco Canyon becomes  known for its chardonnay ...

OK, that is fantasy but Guy Drew Vineyards is not. In just twelve years, with liberal application of water and money, Guy and Ruth have created an excellent winery, one of several in the area. See the "Four Corners" listing here. Lots of people are growing grapes for the new wineries.

Coming home from the Kayenta Plateau, we stopped there, sampled the reds, and left with several bottles, supplemented with the partial bottle of their Petit Verdot from dinner that night at Nero's Restaurant in Cortez.

When I see vineyards, I see permanent habitation and local culture, something that ought to last as long as "great houses" and ceremonial trackways, maybe longer. It's a hopeful sign.


Darrell said...

If you want somethin' good from the Four Corners area, try the anasazi beans. I get mine here:


Local Krogers (King Soopers) also carries them. They taste better'n pintos, cook faster, don't need soaking overnight, and produce much less gas. Grown in the Dove Creek, CO area north of Cortez, the Pinto Bean Capital of the World. And yes, their pintos rock, too.

Chas S. Clifton said...

We grew Anasazi beans (nice marketing touch, there, renaming good ol' pinto beans) when we lived in Cañon City.

They did well there.

mdmnm said...

We've been impressed by some of Sutcliffe's wines when they've been down in Albuquerque.

I didn't realize the Anasazi didn't have chile yet. That puts the corn and bean diet in a whole other light.

Great time to be in the Four Corners and Western Colorado.

Darrell said...

Hmmm. The anasazi beans I get from Adobe Milling Co. (the link in my earlier post) look (when uncooked) quite different than pinto beans.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Pinto, from an old Spanish word, means "marked with spots of white and other colors; mottled; spotted: a pinto horse."

Hence the so-called Anasazi beans are the real "pinto" beans.

Ain't marketing fun?

ColoradoWinePress said...

The Four Corners area is an up and coming wine region in Colorado. Look for high-quality wines to be made from this area in the near future!