Plant for fresh eating and raisins, for merry-making, and a little bewitching wine for the stomach’s sake!
Hardy from Zones 5-9. 5-6 feet tall, 8-10 foot spread.
“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart . . .”
“The wine urges me on, the bewitching wine, which sets even a wise man to singing and to laughing gently and rouses him up to dance and brings forth words which were better unspoken.” -Homer’s Odyssey
Folks figured out how to make wine by watching Grape vines! These clever plants naturally make wine with the help of airborne yeast that lands on fruit skins. Chinese farmers started fermenting grapes almost 9,000 years ago, and clear evidence of widespread viticulture starts about a thousand years later in Georgia. The oldest known winery was in Armenia dating back 6,000 years ago. The Hittites probably spread Grapes westward 5,000 years ago, the first liquor laws got legislated by Hammurabi nearly 4,000 years ago, Egyptian hieroglyphics depict purple grapes, and the Greeks and Phoenicians spread them throughout the Mediterranean, later extended by the Roman conquest of Europe. Christian monasteries made most of Europe’s wine in the decline of the Roman Empire. Now, Grape is the world’s number one fruit. 72 million tons are grown every year, and 7.2 trillion gallons of wine, along with 800,000 tons of raisins! The average U.S.an (a more appropriate designation than “American”) eats 8 pounds of fruit each year, and a quarter of those grapes come all the way from Chile. Humans seem to really like Grapes!
Once upon a time, wine and beer were preferred drinks because clean water was hard to come by, especially so with the rise of urban civilizations. Wine was a much more reliable drink! Dionysus, the Greek god of agriculture, was often pictured with a cluster of grapes and a jug of wine. Ancient Greeks believed drinking wine was essential for proper digestion and often diluted their coarse ferment with water at a 50-50 ratio. They were on to something! Some research suggests that polyphenols in wine reduce the risk of vascular damage and moderate blood pressure. Moderate consumption of alcohol itself might offer some protection for the cardiovascular system. Wine isn’t the only thing Grape is good for! Broadly, the fruit is divided between wine grapes (small with seeds and thick skins, the origin of the wonderful wine smell) and table grapes (big, usually without seeds, and thin skins), which are eaten fresh or turned into jams, juices, jellies, and the seeds are pressed for oil. Dolma is a common (and delicious) Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dish that stuffs Grape leaves with diverse veggies.
Grape has often been associated with fertility and abundance. It’s mentioned more than any other plant in the Bible, all the way from Noah, who planted a vineyard after the Great Flood, to Jesus, whose first miracle turned water into wine after the wedding party had been drinking for a while! Many Christian traditions use wine for the celebration of Eucharist, as do Jewish feasts such as Pesach (or Passover). Not everybody thinks drinking alcohol is morally acceptable, given plenty of biblical texts with prohibitions and concerns about overdrinking, so grape juice gets transubstantiated for the wine.
The oldest grape vine on this continent is 400 years old. Grapes are also native here and were part of indigenous diets. European colonizers called Turtle Island a “vineland” because of the abundance of Grapes on forest edges and riverbanks. However, they also thought the fruit was unsuitable for wine. Native Grapes do have lower sugar content and a higher acid content, a difficult combination for wine-makers. Settlers also called them “fox grapes” because they thought they smelled like an animal den. Funnily enough, both foxes and native Grapes secrete methyl anthranilate, which produces a musky smell! None of that stopped Ephraim Bull of Concord, Massachusetts, from growing over 20,0000 Vitis labrusca seeds to breed the Concord Grape, the first commercially successful wine cultivar here in North America. Concord isn’t widely grown for wine anymore, but it’s the most common source of grape juice and excellent for jams and candies. Clusters can have anywhere between 15 and 300 deep-purple fruits loaded with Vitamins C and K, protein, carbs, dietary fiber, and lots of minerals. We love eating them fresh and making cordial for a cooling drink. We also use the leaves for canning dilly beans or pickles! The tannin-rich leaves are an excellent replacement of alum to keep the crisp in the canned goods. Concord is pretty cold hardy and disease resistant, though it’s susceptible to Black Leaf (a potassium deficiency). The vine wants well-drained soils, sunny spots, and a long life. The first Concord vine is still growing in Massachusetts.
We propagate our Concord Grapes by cuttings from healthy vigorous vines on friendly farms and our own plants.