Dakota Datebook

Wine at the Chateau

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Every summer, the small town of Medora is flooded with tourists, but the town shouldn’t be remembered without first remembering those who worked to make it North Dakota’s most popular historic destination. Medora’s legacy as a tourist town began as early as 1936 when Louis Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Mores’ eldest son donated the de Mores properties to the State of North Dakota. The State Historical Society of North Dakota was made the trustee of the property and began work on the plans for renovation. Early steps of the renovation began as early as May, 1939, and on this day of that year, the Badlander reported an interesting event.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were conducting much of the renovation. Crews were excavating the basement of the chateau when one of the enrollees discovered several bottles of rare wine that was bottled in Bordeaux, France in the early 1800s. The discovery generated much excitement around the chateau. Rumors spread that the supervisors took the wine home and drank it, but Marge Neuens Gratton, originally of Medora, said this wasn’t so. Her husband, Weldon Gratton was one of the landscape architects working on the project and was present when the wine was discovered. He told Marge about the incident. She said:

They were grading there, and they didn’t have large equipment like they have today. They were grading and part of the tractor kind of fell into what became the wine cellar. There are lots of stories that tell about that, but there wasn’t really any wine left in those containers. The wine was pretty well dried out so no one got drunk on it. I just heard a story…that the boys didn’t get any of the wine but the supervisors and whatnot got it and took it home, but that isn’t true. There wasn’t any wine to take home, but it makes a good story for the boys.

Instead, she said, the bottles were probably given to the State Historical Society. Perhaps the de Mores were known for entertaining guests, but the boys of the WPA and CCC did not join in that tradition!

Work continued on the project and today the Chateau has had millions of visitors and is the most visited site in the state. The Chateau was just one project of the WPA and CCC, however. The CCC also helped build roads, fight fires, and plant trees across the nation, and in North Dakota, they also built wildlife refuges.
The CCC was brought together by President Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression to “[bring together] two wasted resources, the young men and the land, in an effort to save both,” according to cccalumni.org. Apparently the plan also worked to save some of North Dakota’s important historical property. It is a pity, however, that it was too late for the wine!

By Tessa Sandstrom

“Rare old wine is found at Chateau,” The Badlander. Nov. 30, 1939: 1.
Gratton, Marge Neuens. Interview by Larry Wegleitner. North Dakota Veterans History Project, North Dakota State Historical Society. August 31, 2006.
Bihrle, Craig. “100 Years of Refuges: North Dakota is Centerpiece for National Event,” North Dakota Outdoors, March 2003: 3-9.
Goplin, Arnold Sr. Historical Narrative and Plans for Restoration, Development, and Preservation of the De Mores Historic Sites at Medora, North Dakota. United States Department of the Interior National Park Service. May 29, 1939.

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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