In the earliest periods of human history, four foods were recognizably important. In the North there were apples and honey. In the South there were olives and grapes.
Two types of grapes are commonly grown today: the American and the European. The American grape entered our history more recently than the vine of Europe, but it. has already played an important role since its roots saved the European grape from extinction during the Phylloxera vilifoliae plague of the last century. This plague threatened to destroy the European grapes and the only remedy was grafting these grapes to American rootstocks. More recently American grapes have entered into sturdy hybrids that carry European wine grapes far north of their original climate area.
Grapes send their roots deep where they can, and they prefer a soil that is rich in organic material. You can encourage growth by adding an organic supplement at planting time and mulching the roots afterward. The site should have good air circulation because grapes are subject to disease in stagnant air.
Grapes need to be fed only nitrogen and may not always need that. If the leaves yellow and there is little growth in the early part of the season, they definitely need feeding. If you're not sure, try a feeding to see the result. Late feeding during the ripening period can force excessive growth and spoil the fruit.
Homegrown seedless grapes will never grow as large as those you buy at the market because commercial growers apply sprays of gib-berellic acid (a plant growth hormone) to increase the fruit size. The spray simply increases the cell size within each grape and does not increase flavor or sugar content. Therefore, homegrown grapes will be more flavorful and will last on the vine longer because they will not rot the way large, crowded fruit tends to.
Harvest grapes by taste and appearance. When you think the bunch looks ripe, taste a grape near the tip. If it's good, cut the bunch.
Sometimes grapes never taste sweet, no matter how long you wait. This simply means that you have planted the wrong variety for your area. Either switch to another variety or replant the one you stubbornly insist on in a hot spot against a south wall or in a west-facing corner.
if vines overproduce and have too many bunches, the grapes will never get sweet. This can be remedied in future, years by more extreme pruning in the dormant season or by thinning the grape bunches to balance the leaf area with the grape berry load.
The two kinds of grapes are pruned differently. (See page 52 for instructions.)
Grapes mildew badly and need good air circulation and often treatment with a fungicide. The classic remedy is copper sulfate. A number of pests attack grapes, especially certain beetles. Birds love grapes, but you can save the fruit by placing whole bunches in paper bags.
Many of the following grapes also grow well in the Pacific Northwest. This is mentioned in the descriptions. The American grapes are listed first, with a note when they are choice juice or wine grapes. French hybrids are listed second.
Spur prune these vines. They are hybrids of European and less well known American grapes (not the 'Concord' type). All are primarily for wine or juice but are also good eaten fresh.
This very early white grape is soft, with a pleasant flavor. It is a dependable producer and a vigorous grower, better in sandy than in heavy soils. Choose it if early ripening is needed. Widely available. Origin: France. 'Baco 1' ('Baco Noir') This midseason variety produces small clusters of small black grapes. It is extremely-vigorous and productive, but it tends to bud out early and is subject to frost injury. This is not a cold hardy variety. Widely available. Origin: France.
The West is grape country wherever you go, and yet many gardeners are disappointed in the fruit they harvest from their vines. The problem is usually a poor choice of varieties. More than any other fruit, grapes require the right climate and amount of heat to produce well. Too many gardeners buy vines because they like the fruit in the market or because they know a famous name.
In general western grape climates are divided into three groups. The first includes all of the West, except California and the southwestern desert. Gardeners in these cool regions should choose an American grape of the "foxy"-fla-vored species, Vitis labrusca. Some of the best choices lor the Pacific Northwest are indicated in the descriptions of American grapes. 'Concord', often sold by nurseries in the cool regions, is not successful in western Washington and Oregon. It requires more heat.
In California the cooler coastal areas and coastal valleys are suited to American grapes and selected European varieties with a low-heat requirement. 'Concord' docs well, but the popular 'Thompson Seedless' will almost always disappoint the home gardener. 'Perlette' is similar, but it was developed for the low heat of this climate. The inland Northwest and parts of Utah, Montana, Colorado, and Idaho can also use 'Concord' and 'Niagara' from the coastal California list.
In the hot inner valleys of the California coast range, there are major commercial vineyards growing all the renowned European wine grapes. The Napa-Sonoma wine region is well known, but there are also many wine grapes grown in newer plantings in southern Santa Clara County, San Benito County near Salinas, and north of Santa Barbara.
The hot Central Valley climate is perfect for the European table grapes that you see on your grocer's counters. 'Thompson', 'Ribier', and 'Emperor' all do well.
The low and high deserts are not good grape country. The earliest maturing European varieties stand the best chance of producing a crop.
The list includes three each of the best-known red and white grapes. They change character over short distances, so unless you know that they do well near you, don't count on getting the best quality. 'Cabernet Sauvignon' This is the great European black grape used to make the red Bordeaux wines of France. Cane prune for best results. Origin: France. 'Chardonnay' This popular white grape is used to make the famous French white Burgundy. It is a vigorous grower and moderate producer. The clusters of berries are small. It is best in cool coastal areas and should be cane pruned. Origin: France.
Grapes for the Southeast
Two quite different types of grapes are widely grown in the Southeast. Both are American in origin: the bunch grape and the muscadine grape. The bunch grape is typified by 'Concord', which was described earlier. Although this type prefers a cool climate, varieties are available for most regions. The real southern grape is, of course, the muscadine, with its smaller clusters of berries and liking for Cotton Belt weather.
Many muscadines are sterile and need a pollinator. The varieties described below as "perfect" will pollinate themselves and any other variety. 'Hunt' This dull black fruit ripens evenly. The quality is excellent, very good for wine and juice. The vine is vigorous and productive. This variety is unanimously recommended for home and commercial planting by the Muscadine Grape Committee. Origin: Georgia, 'Jumbo' This is a very large black muscadine of good quality. It ripens over several weeks, so it is excellent for fresh home use. The vines are disease resistant. Origin: southern United States. 'Magoon' Perfect. Reddish purple berries are medium sized and have a sprightly, aromatic flavor. The vine is productive and vigorous. Origin: Mississippi. 'Scuppernong' Most people call any similar grape a scuppernong, but this is the real
variety. The fruit color varies from greenish to reddish bronze, depending on sun. It is late ripening, sweet, and juicy with aromatic flavor. Good for eating fresh or for wine. Origin: North Carolina. 'Southland' Perfect. This very large grape is purple and dull skinned with good flavor and high sugar content. The vine is moderately vigorous and productive. Good for the central and southern Gulf Coast states. Origin: Mississippi.
'Thomas' This standard grape has reddish black, small to medium berries that are very sweet and excellent for fresh juice. Locally available. Origin: southern United States. 'Topsail' Clusters of three to five berries have green fruit splotched with bronze. This sweetest of all muscadines is very good for fresh use. It is a poor producer. Vines are not very' hardy but are disease resistant. Origin: North Carolina. 'Yuga' These reddish bronze berries are sweet and of excellent quality but ripen late and irregularly. They are fine for home gardens. Origin: Georgia.
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