Thomas Volney (TV) Munson (1843–1913) became one of the leading experts in native American grape species, and his studies were instrumental in saving the European grape and wine industry from disaster during the late nineteenth century.
He stated the direction his career would take when he declared the grape “the most beautiful, most wholesome and nutritious, most certain and profitable fruit that can be grown.”
Munson moved to Denison, Texas, in April 1876. He quickly realized the enormous biodiversity of Texas and soon began to conduct wide-ranging collection trips. For the rest of his life he traveled extensively throughout Texas and forty other states, as well as Mexico, covering more than 50,000 miles by rail and hundreds of miles on horseback and by foot.
Munson’s work enabled him to help save the European grape and wine industry from devastating fungus and insect attacks. In the 1840s European vineyards had been ravaged by the fungus parasite oidium. During that time France suffered losses of nearly 80 percent of its vines.
The European wine industry imported native labrusca rootstock from the United States, but these cuttings brought in phylloxera, a plant louse, which attacked the slowly recovering vineyards. In 1868 phylloxera was discovered in southern France; more than 6 million acres of vineyards were destroyed in France, Germany, and other regions of Europe.
The French wine industry, knowing of Munson’s expertise, requested that he send some of the grape hybrid rootstock that he had developed during his studies at Denison. He shipped phylloxera-resistantrootstock to France, where it was grafted with varieties of European vinifera.
Munson’s work and that of another horticulturalist, Hermann Jaeger, helped save the European wine industry from total devastation.
Because of Munson’s role, the French government in 1888 sent a delegation to Denison to confer on him the French Legion of Honor Chevalier du Mérite Agricole.
Munson continued to live in Denison with his wife and seven children until he died, on January 21, 1913. Around 1975 Grayson College in the Sherman-Denison area established a Thomas Volney Munson Memorial Vineyard to recognize Munson’s contribution to horticulture and to cultivate and preserve many of the Munson grape varieties. In 1988 the T. V. Munson Viticulture and Enology Center opened next to the vineyard. Several statues honoring Munson have been erected in France.