Popular Varieties: Thompson, Sugraone, Crimson, Flame
Store At: Under 10°C, grapes should be refrigerated to retain their crispness.
Comes From: Worldwide, they do best in warm climates such as the Mediterranean.
Seasonality: All year round
Grapes or their products are a familiar sight in any fruit bowl or wine rack. Walking around a vineyard is an exciting experience, ideally taken between August and October when the grapes are formed and busy ripening; walking between rows of 5 feet high vines with dappled sunlight filtering through is an experience not soon forgotten, the grapes nestled between the leaves, growing on vines that could have been growing there for many decades. Just before the grapes are picked is probably the best time to visit, when the leaves are turning either a crimson red or yellow depending on whether they are red or yellow grapes.
Grape vines are scrambling plants, usually allowed to grow straight up and trained horizontally off the main stem, a labour intensive process in vineyards, but the best way to grow them; vines can grow to 35 metres in length if left unchecked, but are usually kept to 1-3 metres at most. The flowers are somewhat small and insignificant; a small white sweet-scented bloom that quickly gives way to a cluster of developing fruit.
There are several ways in which grapes are divided.
First, they are grouped by their seed content, seedless and seeded, seedless grapes typically being more popular because of their increased convenience, particularly as an out-of-hand convenience food.
Secondly, grapes are divided into their origin, European or American. European grapes were the original cultivars, but to grow them in America, they must be grafted onto a certain rootstock which is resistant to a particularly destructive root aphid present in the New World.
Finally, they are split depending on their use. Table grapes are typically the seedless varieties, and eaten as a fresh fruit. Unfortunately in this day and age, taste and flavour is not considered the primary important factor for table grapes; rather, ease of production, storage during shipping and shelf-life come out on top. Raisin grapes are varieties that have a soft texture and good flavour when dried. Sweet juices grapes are, obviously, grapes with a sweet juice, used in the production of grape juice, but also used for jelly, jam and preserves. Finally, wine grapes have huge commercial importance. Wine grapes are usually sweeter than table grapes, but smaller sized (which are naturally easier to produce). The varieties used for wine production is usually controlled by the government.
Grapes are originally thought to have come from the Caspian Sea area of Southwest Asia, and were one of the first fruit crops to be domesticated, for several reasons. First, agriculture itself is set to have been "born" in this area of the world, a very fertile land. Secondly, grapes have many uses and store fairly well so could have been harvested and eaten over a period of time. Thirdly grapes are easily propagated through cuttings, retaining the original plant variety and allowing the rapid build up of stock.
So, grapes are pretty old. There are records of them in the bible, and Egyptian hieroglyphics so vineyards and wine making facilities from around 2400 BC. Grapes were transported to Greece, Rome and Southern France by 600BC, and from there the Romans spread them throughout Europe, thereby establishing its' heritage to come. Grapes spread to the far east through trade, and to the New World by the late 1400s, although initially they did poorly due to intolerance of the colder climate and poor disease and pest resistance. When missionaries brought grapes to California in the 1700s they faired better, and even today American wine production is dominated by California.
Whilst the Romans were responsible for the spread of grapes, they weere also partly responsible for their downfall. By the first century AD they were widespread across Europe and even Britain, until Emperor Domitian ordered the destruction of grape production in Britain, Spain and France in order to protect his home market. Two centuries later this order was reversed by Emperor Probus, who once again encouraged the spread of grapes, which was continued by monasteries long after the fall of the Roman Empire. When the Domesday Book was compiled in the 11th Century, there were still 38 vineyards in Britain, but the climate by this time was cooling, and the vineyards had all but disappeared by the 18th century.
During the time of the Victorians grapes once again came into fashion. Cheap labour and fuel allowed the Victorians to practise the cultivation of grapes to perfection in large glasshouses; they were able to grow grapes almost all year round. After the Victorian era when the cheap fuel and labour disappeared, these glasshouses almost entirely fell into disrepair and disuse. Since the second world war however, there has been a resurgence of the British vineyard, and many are now producing wine on a commercial scale.
The main two uses for grapes are obviously eating fresh, and for making wine. Grapes were one of the first fruits to be discovered for making into wine; most fruit can, but the discovery of this in grapes was probably accidental. Yeast grows naturally on the skin of grapes, and storing them in a container that excludes air would allow fermentation to occur. Because grapes were the first fruit to be made into wine, wine has since then most strongly been associated with grapes.
Grapes can also be dried and turned into raisins, and squeezed to make grape juice. Grape seeds contain oil which can be used in foodstuffs, soap or as a substitute for linseed oil. The leaves of grapes are eaten in some cultures.
Grapes have many uses in traditional and folk medicine, including the sap used to treat skin diseases, the juice of unripe fruit used to treat throat infections, and generally used to treat some tumours and cancer, diarrhoea and coughs.
Grapes are fairly easy to grow on a small scale for even the amateur home gardener, although maintaining a vineyard might require a little more skill! They can be grown in any temperate region which has summers with temperatures above 20°C, although they do require some degree of protection from rainfall.
Growing grapes in containers is probably the best way for the amateur gardener. This way they can be kept outdoors in the summer then easily be brought indoors in winter. While they can be grown in a greenhouse, this is not necessarily an efficient use of the space, unless you have a lot of greenhouses! Grapes can be quite capably grown outdoors in England in all but the coldest areas. They should be grown in full sun to allow the grapes to ripen properly, and they require a period of chilling in the winter to break dormancy.
While grapes can be grown in containers, they actually resent, since they dislike having their roots cramped. Grapevines are very voracious plants, and can grow to 35 metres long/tall if given good enough conditions and left unchecked. Growing them in containers shortens their lifespan and lessens their yield, but restricts them to such an amount that they become easy to grow, and since they are kept small, more can be grown.
Grapes are best bought in late Spring from garden centres or specialist nurseries, when they are coming into bud and a good plant chosen. The minimum pot size that should ideally be used is about 12 inches in diameter, maximum about 24 inches diameter. The richness of the potting material used is not important; it should have some degree of organic matter, but the structure of the soil is the most important factor; it must be fairly open and free-draining.
Grapes should be kept well watered during first growth, flowering and initial fruit set; however after this they do prefer hot, dry conditions; it brings out a stronger flavour in the fruit. In some Mediterranean countries they shield the grapes in late summer with plastic covers to keep the rain off them.
Grapes should be left on the vine until fully ripened; they are preclimacteric; that is, they do not ripen further when taken off the vine, and the longer they remain on the vine, the higher the sugar content, and therefore the sweeter, and nicer, the grape. Because of the ripening nature of grapes, that they don\'t all grow and ripen at once, it may be necessary to leave them on a long period of time, whereby some will be riper than others, to get full ripening of an entire cluster.
If more plants are required, propagation is easy; any semi-ripe cutting will easily root in Autumn.
- Home growing grapes
- Growing grapes for home user
- Starting a vineyard
- Winegrape Varieties
- Buy Organic Grapes
- Grape Varieties on Wikipedia
- Grapes on Wikipedia
There are several groups; table grapes include Thompson Seedless, Flame and Crimson, Raisin grapes include Thompson Seedless, as do juice varieties which also include Concord. Wine grape varieties can vary, but include Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon. You may notice these are actually names of wines; the wines take their name from the grapes themselves.
Thompson is one of the most popular grapes worldwide, not only is it the leading variety in raisin production, this elongated oval shaped pale green sweet grape is very common for table/dessert use.
An excellent variety for growing outdoors, particularly in temperate countries such as England, Boskoop Glory is a red grape bordering on purple black. It is ideal for making wine or eating as a dessert grape.
The Concord grape was formerly the primary grape for production of grape juice, however it has now been taken over by Thompson Seedless. It is a red seeded grape having dark blue to purple-black skin, and is also commonly used to make jelly and some wines. This is a cultivar of the North American fox grape species.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a red grape, commonly used to make red wine, and is one of the most widely planted of the six noble grape varieties (the varieties that produce the finest wines). Some of the finest wines in the world, including Red Bordeaux, are made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
A fantastic red variety, this is a cross between Thompson, Cardinal, and some other varieties. Flame grapes are almost perfectly spherical and so bursting with juice they are almost crunchy, and of course full of flavour. One of our favourite varieties, and one of the most popular!
Merlot is a variety of wine grape used to create popular red wines.
A red wine grape, Pinot Noir is used to make a dry red table wine, most commonly from the Burgundy region of France and California. It is a relatively low yielding grape, but it is persevered with because it is widely regarded to make some of the finest wines in the world.
Another white seedless variety, Sugraone is a particularly firm and sweet variety.