Grapes for the Home Vineyard

    • Apples and pears are the easiest fruits to grow in our area. Choose early, mid-season and late varieties for a continuous harvest from late summer into winter.
    • Fill your winter garden with color from primroses and pansies.
    • Witch hazels bloom in the middle of winter with their interesting and showy, fragrant yellow or red blooms. One might look good in your garden.
    • Delicious raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, boysenberries and blueberries are all available now for early planting.
    • Fruit trees can be pruned this month. If you’re not sure how, take advantage of one of the fine classes being offered this month.

Grapes for the Home Vineyard

An age-old fruit, grapes have been cultivated for over 6000 years and continue to grow in popularity today. Grown for fresh eating, juice, jelly or wine, grapes are widely recognized for their health benefits as well as for the production of fine wines.

Wine grape varieties represent only a small portion of the more than 600 kinds of grapes, and only about 60 varieties are suited to produce fine quality wine. The rest are considered table grapes, which are seeing a surge in popularity with today’s home gardeners.

Seedless table grapes are the most popular and Thompson Seedless and Flame make up the majority of table grapes sold in California. But both of these varieties require a considerable amount of heat to reach their finest quality. The Willits area just doesn’t get the amount of heat that the Central Valley does where these varieties grow to perfection. But there are many delicious grapes that are well suited to our climate.

There are two basic types of grapes, American and European. Our familiar table grapes and most wine grapes are derived from a single European species, Vitis vinifera. They have relatively thin skins that adhere closely to their flesh, and seeds that can be slipped out of the pulp quite easily.

American varieties, Vitis labrusca, are sometimes called slip-skin grapes, as their skins separate readily from the flesh; their seeds are tightly embedded in the pulp. The most familiar American variety is the Concord grape. Our area is suited to American grapes and to selected European varieties with lower heat requirements.

In 1999, several new cultivars were released. Princess is a large green grape that rivals Thompson with berries of excellent eating quality that have a satisfying crunch. Summer Royal grapes are medium-sized, and blue-black in color. These round seedless grapes have a pleasant aroma and a sweet flavor, and are ideal for snacks and salads. Summer Muscat has green, seedless muscat-flavored berries that are excellent for dry-on-the-vine raisins.

Some American grapes that ripen early in the season include these seedless varieties. Himrod is an excellent quality golden yellow grape that bears large clusters of crisp, sweet fruit. This seedless variety is reliable and productive. Canadice is a beautiful rose-colored grape that is sweet with a somewhat spicy flavor. Interlaken has pale green berries that are sweet and crisp.

Suffolk Red is a seedless grape with round, firm, pink to red berries and a pleasing, spicy-sweet flavor. It makes a really delicious table grape. Golden Muscat has pale golden berries with a characteristic muscat flavor. Its large, well filled clusters are juicy and sweet.

The best known purple grape is Concord, whose fruit has a distinctive “foxy” flavor. Used widely for grape juice and jelly, it may be America’s favorite grape.

Several European grapes do well in our area. Perlette is a pale green grape that is sweet and juicy. Black Monukka, which has a deep, purplish-black skin and is very sweet and rich flavored, and Flame, a crisp, sweet red grape, are both excellent for fresh use and for raisins. These varieties do not need the high heat that Thompson does to ripen.

Grapes are so abundant and easy to grow, that no family vineyard should be without them. Plant several varieties to enjoy their distinct flavors and a long harvest.

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