American Grapes

Few other plants in the New World grow wild under such varied

conditions and over such extended areas as the grape. Wild grapes are

found in the warmer parts of New Brunswick; on the shores of the Great

Lakes; everywhere in the woodlands of the North and Middle Atlantic

states; on the limestone soils of Kentucky, Tennessee and the

Virginias; and they thrive in the sandy woods, sea plains and

reef-keys of the South Atla
tic and Gulf states. While not so common

west of the Mississippi, yet some kind of wild grape is found from

North Dakota to Texas; grapes grow on the mountains and in the canons

of all the Rocky Mountain states; and several species thrive on the

Mexican borders and in the far Southwest.

While it is possible that all American grapes have descended from an

original species, the types are now as diverse as the regions they

inhabit. The wild grapes of the forests have long slender trunks and

branches, whereby their leaves are better exposed to the sunlight. Two

shrubby species do not attain a greater height than four or five feet;

these grow in sandy soils, or among rocks exposed to sun and air.

Another runs on the ground and bears foliage almost evergreen. The

stem of one species attains a diameter of a foot, bearing its foliage

in a great canopy. From this giant form the species vary to slender,

graceful, climbing vines. Wild grapes are as varied in climatic

adaptations as in structure of vine and grow luxuriantly in every

condition of heat or cold, wetness or dryness, capable of supporting

fruit-culture in America. So many of the kinds have horticultural

possibilities that it seems certain that some grape can be

domesticated in all of the agricultural regions of the country, their

natural plasticity indicating, even if it were not known from

experience, that all can be domesticated.

Leif the Lucky, the first European to visit America, if the Icelandic

records are true, christened the new land Wineland. It has been

supposed that this designation was given for the grapes, but recent

investigations show that the fruits were probably mountain

cranberries. Captain John Hawkins, who visited the Spanish settlements

in Florida in 1565, mentions wild grapes among the resources of the

New World. Amadas and Barlowe, sent out by Raleigh in 1584, describe

the coasts of the Carolinas as, "so full of grapes that in all the

world like abundance cannot be found." Captain John Smith, writing in

1606, describes the grapes of Virginia and recommends the culture of

the vine as an industry for the newly founded colony. Few, indeed, are

the explorers of the Atlantic seaboard who do not mention grapes among

the plants of the country. Yet none saw intrinsic value in these wild

vines. To the Europeans, the grapes of the Old World alone were worth

cultivating, and the vines growing everywhere in America only

suggested that the grape they had known across the sea might be grown

in the new home.

That American viticulture must depend on the native species for its

varieties began to be recognized at the beginning of the nineteenth

century, when several large companies engaged in growing foreign

grapes failed, and a meritorious native grape made its appearance. The

vine of promise was a variety known as the Alexander. Thomas

Jefferson, ever alert for the agricultural welfare of the nation,

writing in 1809 to John Adlum, one of the first experimenters with an

American species, voiced the sentiment of grape experimenters in

speaking of the Alexander: "I think it will be well to push the

culture of this grape without losing time and efforts in the search

of foreign vines, which it will take centuries to adapt to our soil

and climate."

Alexander is an offshoot of the common fox-grape, Vitis Labrusca

(Fig. 2), found in the woods on the Atlantic coast from Maine to

Georgia and occasionally in the Mississippi Valley. The history of the

variety dates back to before the Revolutionary War, when, according

to William Bartram, the Quaker botanist, it was found growing in the

vicinity of Philadelphia, by John Alexander, gardener to Governor Penn

of Pennsylvania. Curiously enough, it came into general cultivation

through the deception of a nurseryman. Peter Legaux, a French-American

grape-grower, in 1801 sold the Kentucky Vineyard Society fifteen

hundred grape cuttings which he said had been taken from an European

grape introduced from the Cape of Good Hope, therefore called the

"Cape" grape. Legaux's grape turned out to be the Alexander. In the

new home the spurious Cape grew wonderfully well and as the knowledge

of its fruitfulness in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana spread, demand for

it increased, and with remarkable rapidity, considering the time, it

came into general cultivation in the parts of the United States then


The Labrusca or fox-grapes.

Of the several species of American grapes now under cultivation, the

Labrusca, first represented by the Alexander, has furnished more

cultivated varieties than all the other American species together, no

less than five hundred of its varieties having been grown in the

vineyards of the country. There are several reasons why it is the most

generally cultivated species. It is native to the parts of the United

States in which agriculture soonest advanced to a state where fruits

were desired. In the wild, the Labruscas are the most attractive,

being largest and handsomest in color; among all grapes it alone shows

black-, white- and red-fruited forms on wild vines. There is a

northern and a southern form of the species, and its varieties are,

therefore, widely adapted to climates and to soils. The flavor of the

fruits of this species, all things considered, is rather better than

that of any other of our wild grapes, though the skins in most of its

varieties have a peculiar aroma, somewhat pronounced in the well-known

Concord, Niagara and Worden, which is disagreeable to tastes

accustomed to the pure flavors of the European grapes. All Labruscas

submit well to vineyard operations and are vigorous, hardy and

productive, though they are more subject to the dreaded phylloxera

than are most of the other cultivated native species. Of the many

grapes of this type, at least two deserve brief historical mention.

Catawba, probably a pure-bred Labrusca, the first American grape of

commercial importance, is the most interesting variety of its species.

The origin of the variety is not certainly known, but all evidence

points to its having been found about the year 1800 on the banks of

the Catawba River, North Carolina. It was introduced into general

cultivation by Major John Adlum, soldier of the Revolution, judge,

surveyor and author of the first American book on grapes. Adlum

maintained an experimental vineyard in the District of Columbia,

whence in 1823 he began the distribution of the Catawba. At that time

the center of American grape culture was about Cincinnati, and an

early shipment of Adlum's Catawbas went to Nicholas Longworth of that

city and was by him distributed throughout the grape-growing centers

of the country. As one of the first to test new varieties of American

grapes, to grow them largely and to make wine commercially from them,

Nicholas Longworth is known as the "father of American grape culture."

Catawba is still one of the four leading varieties in the vineyards of

eastern America. The characters whereby its high place is maintained

among grapes are: Great elasticity of constitution, by reason of which

the vine is adapted to many environments; rich flavor, long-keeping

quality, and handsome appearance of fruit, qualities which make it a

very good dessert grape; high sugar-content and a rich flavor of

juice, so that from its fruit is made a very good wine and a very good

grape-juice; and vigor, hardiness and productiveness of vine. The

characters of Catawba are readily transmissible, and it has many

pure-bred or hybrid offspring which more or less resemble it.

The second commercial grape of importance in American viticulture is

Concord, which came from the seed of a wild grape planted in the fall

of 1843 by Ephraim W. Bull, Concord, Massachusetts. The new variety

was disseminated in the spring of 1854, and from the time of its

introduction the spread of its culture was phenomenal. By 1860 it was

the leading grape in America and it so remains. Concord furnishes,

with the varieties that have sprung from it, seventy-five per cent of

the grapes grown in eastern America. The characters which distinguish

the vine are: Adaptability to various soils, fruitfulness, hardiness

and resistance to diseases and insects. The fruits are distinguished

by certainty of maturity, attractive appearance, good but not high

flavor, and by the fact that they may be produced so cheaply that no

other grape can compete with this variety in the markets. Concord is,

as Horace Greeley well denominated it in awarding the Greeley prize

for the best American grape, "the grape for the millions."

The histories of these two grapes are typical of those of five hundred

or more other Labruscas. Out of a prodigious number of native

seedlings, an occasional one is found greatly to excel its fellows and

is brought under cultivation.

The Rotundifolia or Muscadine grapes.

Long before the northern Labruscas had attained prominence in the

vineyards of the North, a grape had been domesticated partially in the

South. It is Vitis rotundifolia (Fig. 3), a species which runs riot

from the Potomac to the Gulf, thriving in many diverse soils, but

growing only in the southern climate and preferring the seacoast.

Rotundifolia grapes have been cultivated somewhat for fruit or

ornament from the earliest colonial times. It is certain that wine was

made from this species by the English settlers at Jamestown. Vines of

it are now to be found on arbors, in gardens or half wild on fences

in nearly every farm in the South Atlantic states. That the

Rotundifolias have not been more generally brought under cultivation

is due to the bountifulness of the wild vines, which has obviated the

necessity of domesticating them. The fruit of its varieties, to a

palate unaccustomed to them, is not very acceptable, having a musky

flavor and odor and a sweet, juicy pulp, which is lacking in

sprightliness. Many, however, acquire a taste for these grapes and

find them pleasant eating. The great defect of this grape is that the

berries part from the pedicels as they ripen and perfect bunches

cannot be secured. In fact, the crop is often harvested by shaking the

vines so that the berries drop on sheets beneath. Despite these

defects, a score or more varieties of this species are now under

general cultivation in the cotton-belt, and interest in their

domestication is now greater than in any other species, with great

promise for the future.

The AEstivalis or summer-grapes.

The South has another grape of remarkable horticultural possibilities.

This is Vitis aestivalis (Fig. 4), the summer-grape or, to

distinguish it from the Rotundifolias, the bunch-grape of southern

forests. There are now a score or more well-known varieties of this

species, the best known being Norton, which probably originated with

Dr. D. N. Norton, Richmond, Virginia, in the early part of the

nineteenth century. The berries of the true AEstivalis grapes are too

small, too destitute of pulp and too tart to make good dessert fruits,

but from them are made our best native red wines. Domestication of

this species has been greatly retarded by a peculiarity of the species

which hinders its propagation. Grapes are best propagated from

cuttings, but this species is not easily reproduced by this means and

the difficulty of securing good young vines has been a serious

handicap in its culture.

There are two subspecies of Vitis aestivalis which promise much for

American viticulture. Vitis aestivalis Bourquiniana, known only under

cultivation and of very doubtful botanical standing, furnishes

American viticulture several valuable varieties. Chief of these is the

Delaware, the introduction of which sixty years ago from the town of

Delaware, Ohio, raised the standard in quality of New World grapes to

that of Old World. No European grape has a richer or more delicate

flavor, or a more pleasing aroma, than Delaware. While a northern

grape, it can be grown in the South, and thrives under so many

different climatic and soil conditions and under all is so fruitful,

that, next to the Concord, it is the most popular American grape for

garden and vineyard. Without question, however, Delaware contains a

trace of European blood.

Another offshoot of this subspecies is Herbemont, which, in the South,

holds the same rank that Concord holds in the North. The variety is

grown only south of the Ohio, and in this great region it is esteemed

by all for a dessert grape and for its light red wine. It is one of

the few American varieties which finds favor in France, being

cultivated in southwest France as a wine-grape. Its history goes back

to a colony of French Huguenots in Georgia before the Revolutionary

War. Very similar to Herbemont is Lenoir, also with a history tracing

back to the French in the Carolinas or Georgia in the eighteenth


The other subspecies of Vitis aestivalis is Vitis aestivalis

Lincecumii, the post-oak grape of Texas and of the southern part of

the Mississippi Valley. Recently this wild grape has been brought

under domestication, and from it has been bred a number of most

promising varieties for hot and dry regions.

The Vulpina or river-bank grapes.

The North, too, has a wine-grape from which wines nearly equaling

those of the southern AEstivalis are made. This is Vitis vulpina (V.

riparia), the river-bank grape, a shoot of which is shown in Fig. 5,

the most widely distributed of any of the native species. It grows as

far north as Quebec, south to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Atlantic

to the Rocky Mountains. Fully a century ago, a wine-grape of this

species was cultivated under the name Worthington, but the attention

of vineyardists was not turned to the Vulpinas until after the middle

of the last century, when the qualities of its vines attracted the

attention of French viticulturists. Phylloxera had been introduced

from America into France and threatened the existence of French

vineyards. After trying all possible remedies for the scourge, it was

discovered that the insect could be overcome by grafting European

grapes on American vines resistant to phylloxera. A trial of the

promising species of New World grapes showed that vines of this

species were best suited for the reconstruction of French vineyards,

the vines being not only resistant to the phylloxera but also vigorous

and hardy. At present, a large proportion of the vines of Europe,

California and other grape-growing regions are grafted on the roots of

this or of other American species, and the viticulture of the world

is thus largely dependent on these grapes.

The French found that a number of the Vulpina (Riparia) grapes

introduced for their roots were valuable as direct producers for

wines. The fruits of this species are too small and too sour for

dessert, but they are free from the disagreeable tastes and aromas of

some of our native grapes and, therefore, make very good wines. The

best known of the varieties of this species is the Clinton, which is

generally thought to have originated in the yard of Dr. Noyes, of

Hamilton College, Clinton, New York, about 1820. It is, however,

probably the Worthington, of which the origin is unknown, renamed.

There are possibly a hundred or more grapes now under cultivation

wholly or in part from Vulpina, most of them hybrids with the American

Labrusca and the European Vinifera, with both of which it hybridizes


Domesticated species of minor importance.

In the preceding paragraphs we have seen that four species of grapes

constitute the foundation of American viticulture. Nine other species

furnish pure-bred varieties and many hybrids with the four chief

species or among themselves. These are V. rupestris, V. Longii,

V. Champinii, V. Munsoniana, V. cordifolia, V. candicans, V.

bicolor, V. monticola and V. Berlandieri. Several of these nine

species are of value in the vineyard or for stocks upon which to graft

other grapes. The domestication of all of these is just begun, and

each year sees them more and more in use in the vineyards of the


a vineyard in the orchard region of central California; bottom, a

vineyard in southern California.]