Growing Heirloom Grapevines

As we hear more and more about food shortages, droughts, and other catastrophic events that are currently hurting the pocket books of many people, not only in America, but all over the globe – hoards of gardeners are returning to the home garden for their family food needs.  If you think about all the foods that you would miss should the worst case scenarios that are currently being posted on social media sharing sites come true, there is one food source that comes to mind that if it were missing or expensively unavailable to the vast majority of us -- it’s grapes. 

Artist: Taisia Afonina, titled Grapes & Apples (1955), Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons (Linengradartists)

Artist: Taisia Afonina, titled Grapes & Apples (1955), Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons (Linengradartists)

It may not be foremost on our minds that the food products that have grape products within them are many.  If you want a big example consider the fact that most of the juices and juice concentrates we buy off American grocery shelves, may be labeled:  Apple juice, Mango juice, Strawberry-Kiwi juice and so on, but reality is that the first and most concentrated ingredient in those juices or drinks is grape juice.  Grapes are in many processed foods, snacks, jams, jellies, wine, grape seed extract, raisins, vinegar, yeast, and grape seed oil.

A Little American Native Grape History

Mankind has been in love with grapes for an estimated 8,000 years and it has been proven that humans have been making wine from them just as long ago. Originally, it is believed that there were about thirty species of wild grapes on the American continent, and that these were native to all parts of the continent.  At least five of the wild species were domesticated and from them at least a thousand or more have been named. 

In the beginning, native grapes were chiefly grown commercially along the borders of lakes and rivers, especially in New York and Ohio.  However, it is also known that prior to that, a certain wild grape (Rotundifolia muscadine) was heavily cultivated and historically known to exist in the wild for at least four hundred years.  If you have doubts about that fact, just visit Roanoke Island, North Carolina where the “Mothervine,” resides and reigns as the oldest known grape vine in North America. 

Why Home Growing of Grapes Is Important

Just like the loss of most of our heirloom apple varieties, the world is also experiencing a loss of cultivated heirloom grape varieties.  There are ten thousand varieties of grapes, but only twenty percent of them are actively grown.  Why did this happen?  Just like with apples, we got so attached to particular grape varieties, that we stopped growing some of the best and most interesting.  Some of it has to do with what varieties of grape vines are available in a specific region and what varieties of plants are being offered.  With most gardeners only buying at the local big box garden centers, we are all contributing to the demise of grapes.

Another factor in grape cultivation has to do with climate change and global food monopolies In a consumer driven economy many heirloom grape vine varieties simply ceased to exist as more market worthy grapes became popular.  Therefore, it is vital that home gardeners do their part in reviving old time heirloom grape vine varieties, especially those who are native to a particular region and ones that are resistant to drought.

Choosing Some Special Grape Vine Varieties

The best kinds of grapes for the home grower are the self-pollinating kind.  These will be the fastest growers and yield you a good crop in the second year.  Understand that each grape vine needs at least eight feet of trellis supported space.  On average each grape vine will yield about fifteen pounds of grapes per year.  Considering the fact that the average person eats about eight pounds of grapes per year, simple math dictates that a family of four could easily meet their home grape needs by simply planting just two grape vines.  Of course, this doesn’t count grape needs in terms of making other foods for the home consumption, like wine or jams and jellies.  Considering that it takes ninety pounds of grapes to make five gallons of wine, some home gardeners will want to plant significantly more grape vines.  Here are some of my top ten grapevine picks:

Brockton - Golden yellow grapes, sweet, considered a very good white wine grape

Concord - Black fruit, sweet, very vigorous, adapts well to most soils, not good as wine

Delaware – Red fruit, small grape variety but productive, one of best for making white wine

Elvira – Golden light yellow fruit, vigorous, hardy, does best in Missouri and nearby states, good for wine

Fredonia – Black grapes, early, very large, and hardy

Ives – Black grape, sweet, vigorous but not always guaranteed the same size crop each year, however may be worth it as it makes some of the best red wine

Niagara – Light golden yellow, sweet, great aroma, not regular in bearing or disease resistant but still worthy of noting

Ontario – Golden yellow grapes, very early, works in many regions of country

Sheridan – Black grapes, sweet, vigorous, hardy, good for red wines

Worden – Large black grapes, early, vigorous and hardy

If You’d Like To Know More Heirloom Grapevines!

Grapes - Trees of Antiquity

History of Grapes

National Grapes Association