The specialties associated with Lucy Morton’s name are viticulture, ampelography, rootstock specialist, author, historian and educator.
Photo : Rob Deford
She has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Virginia Wine Association, a National Award of Merit from the American Wine Society and two awards from Vineyard & Winery Management: one of the 20 Most Admired People in the Wine Industry in North America (2013) and one of the 20 Most Admired Winemakers in North America (2015).
In 2001, a new species, Phaeoacremonium Mortonia, was named after Morton for his contribution to the understanding of black mucus disease.
I don’t think there’s anything in the wine world that can’t do it, says Frank Morgan, a Virginia wine writer. She is one of the few who is revered by everyone who worked with her.
There are so many ways Morton deserves to be recognized by the most inspiring people in the Wine Industry Network in 2021, from her books – Viticulture in Eastern America and Pierre Galette’s adaptation of the translation of Practical Ampelography – to her work as a teaching assistant at Piedmont Virginia Community College, to the collaborative research projects she has participated in with academics around the world.
Photo : Dave McIntyre
In 1998, she founded the International Grape Trunk Disease Council at the home of Dr. Luigi Chiarappa, a retired plant pathologist in Davis, California. Besides Luigi and me, she said, there were four others at the meeting: Philippe Larignon (France), Jan Pascoe (Australia), Laura Mugnai (Italy), Lisa Van de Water (California). There are now hundreds of scientists from all over the world.
Her work has touched many, being involved in both the research and growing aspects of the industry. When she noticed how many AXR 1 rootstocks had been planted on California’s North Shore in 1979, she wrote an article titled The Myth of Universal Rootstocks, which was published in Wines & Vines magazine – even before it was clear that rootstocks were not resistant to phylloxera, she says. Six years later she wrote another play when it became clear to some that it could be done, but before the authorities officially confirmed it.
She has also been urging us to abandon the vine for years, a philosophy that has met with much resistance. Anyone who is honest about their relationship with Lucy should give her credit for her courage in defending the status quo, Mr. Deford said. I remember many conferences where people stood up and spoke: Up close, it’s just more work and more expensive. Why would you do that?
Their resilience has influenced many people, including Nelson Stewart, vineyard manager of Allegro Winery in southern Pennsylvania.
Lucy has had a huge impact on winemaking on the East Coast and beyond, Stewart says. It’s almost uncool to plant vines with 3-foot rows and 2-foot spacing between them. I think the fact that people are talking about the importance of vine spacing is largely due to Lucy.
Mark Chin was Pennsylvania’s oenologist for 15 years, where he hosted a series of master classes, including with Morton. What sets Lucy apart is her enthusiasm, which has only grown over the years, and her experiential expertise in the vineyard, which is as good as any winemaker I’ve met, he says. Chin and his wife returned to Oregon in 2014, where he is a program coordinator at the Oregon Wine Research Institute. She doesn’t just see, as Sherlock Holmes explains, she observes, and then she has a strange ability to connect the dots where others cannot. Their track record speaks for itself, particularly in terms of vine deterioration and pathogenic fungi.
She is currently working on a fungicide project with several wineries in Maryland and Menjun Hu, assistant professor and plant pathologist at the University of Maryland. He says he admires his energy, his ability to observe and critically question, and his interactions with the Grapevine community, which allow him to better understand what really matters. By solving these problems, we can take grape and wine production to a new level.
Photo : Joyce Rigby
Viticulture has been at the center of his career from the beginning, beginning with his graduate training in viticulture at ENSA Montpellier (now SupAgro) during the 1973-74 academic year and working with mentors such as USDA winemaker John McGrew, winemaker and founder Philippe Wagner, and author Leon Wagner. She jokes about him and says she was on the road with him in the mid-seventies: He wanted to see every vineyard or potential vineyard on the East Coast. I wanted to see all the vineyards.
One of the wineries she visited in 1973 was Wagner Vineyards for advice on grapes for growing on her parents’ farm in Virginia. Several decades later, she returned there to survey the Deford family vineyards, which she had purchased from the Wagners. She looked at our vines and said: I have some bad news: We’ll have to start over. It was not good news at all, Mr. DeFord recalls.
With transplants and a new vineyard, the bad news got a lot better for Boordy, one of Morton’s 20 clients says he drilled in the mid-Atlantic. What I’m interested in is continuity, she says. I don’t want to be a good wine connoisseur who charges a lot of money every half day to talk to you. I prefer to work in the long run for a lower income with more people, because to me they are like mini research stations and then they become like a family.
In fact, what made Morton’s career so important to all nomenclature and academic work was his ability and willingness to work with people. Deford here: Overall, it’s a human endeavor, and she’s a humanist, and she wants to know how every aspect of it works to contribute to the goal of producing great wines.
Morton would agree – that’s what excites me, it’s the people, the connections – on one condition. Over the past 10 years, I’ve tried to make it a reasonable practice area, she says. I joke with people: If you can’t get off Route 15, don’t call me. I don’t drive I-95 anymore.
More information can be found here: The most inspiring wine people of 2021.