Grapes (Vitis vinifera) are a form of berry and the earliest domesticated fruit crop, which is cultivated for use as table fruits, in juices, jams, jellies, pies and wines or dried to make raisins.
Some grapes are seedless, while others have seeds, some of which are edible. Grape vines can also be used as an ornamental part of landscaping, when used as screen plants or on trellises. Grape cultivar, which is the act of cultivating the fruit, may be American, European or French hybrid.
Some cultivars make better table grapes, while other types of grapes are more suitable for making wines. The majority of U.S. grapes, of which there are 50 different species, are grown in California, due to the warm and moist climate.
There are three colors of grapes, which are green, red or blue-black and six different kinds. Green grapes include Perlette grapes and Thompson grapes; red grapes include Flame grapes and Ruby grapes; and blue-blacks include Fantasy grapes and Exotic grapes. American grape varieties include Concord, Delaware, Isabella and Niagara. European grape varieties include Ribeir, Tokay and Thompson seedless. American grapes are generally larger, but contain seeds.
Concord grapes are used to make grape jelly and Thompson seedless grapes are typically used to make raisins.
The oldest species of grapes were cultivated more than 8,000 years ago between the Black and Caspian Sea regions near northern Iran.
Early drawings suggest that the Egyptians grew grapes and produced wines, and that the early Romans created new varieties. Grapes native to North America grew along the banks of streams, but were sour. Columbus brought several species of grapes to Haiti in 1494 and, subsequently, new varieties of European grapes were introduced into the eastern portions of the United States by settling colonists.
Additionally, Spanish explorers brought grapes to California nearly 300 years ago and in 1769, they established missions throughout the state and began planting a European variety of grape called the Mission.
In 1839, William Wolfskill was the first farmer to plant the first wine-making vineyard on land, which is now Los Angeles, California. In 1869, R.B. Blowers established the first transport business for selling grapes to eastern markets, when he shipped the first load of 22-lb boxes to Chicago, Illinois. In 1854, the Concord grape, which is a wild species native to New England, was discovered in a small town in Massachusetts, Concord and so, aptly named.
Grapes are cultivated from grapevines, which are characterized by having large, climbing vines and jagged leaves, with stem barks that peel. Established grapevines can yield grapes for at least 40 years and produce up to 20 lbs or more of fruit each season.
To ensure the stability and health of grapevines, they must be fertilized and pruned regularly, as well as kept free from pests. The vines can be trained to adhere to certain areas and growth patterns by tying them to support systems, such as fences, using wires.
The vines can be encouraged to grow in upright positions, or they can be allowed to hang down.Vines placed on trellises should be placed approximately 8-feet apart, and those positioned on arbors should be positioned at least 4-feet apart.
Distribution and Production
Grapes are native to Asia and regions near the Caspian Sea. Concord grapes are one of three fruits native to North America. Grapes are grown and harvested in North America, South America, Australia, Europe, Asia and Africa. The American and French hybrid types of grapes are most common in the northern portions of the United States because they are tolerate cold temperatures more easily than those grown in California. In excess of 90 percent of U.S. grapes are grown in California.
The hardiest and most flavorful grapes were developing by crossing European and specially-selected native North American wild grapes. The earliest grapes cultivars typically ripen in mid-August for the northeast areas, while the latest crops produce fruit between late September and early October. It generally takes three years from the time of planting to begin grape production.
A disease and pest management program is essential, especially during the springtime because of rain and hot, humid summers.
Table & Wine Grapes
Table grapes are eaten raw and off the vine, and wine grapes are grown specifically for wine production. Table grapes are generally green grapes, such as Perlettes; red grapes, such as Swensen reds or Cardinals; and blue-black grapes, which include the Thomcords, Ribiers and Muscat Hamburgs. Table grapes typically have lower sugar contents and are flavorful, whereas wine grapes tend to be tart and less sweet. White and red French-American hybrid grapes are recommended for wine making, with Catawba being one of the most popular because it ripens later and is hardy.
There are only a few varieties of grapes suitable for wine production, since they must be capable of withstanding precise micro-climates and winemaking techniques, as well as produce the distinctive flavors winemakers endeavor to create.
Research which began in 1923 in California has produced new varieties of white, red and black seedless grapes. Two of America’s most popular grapes, the Thompson seedless and the Concord have been crossed to produce the Thomcord, which was developed by grape breeders in California in partnership with the Agricultural Research Service.
The laboratory experiment, which led to the creation of Thomcord seedless grapes was originally intended to answer a scientific question about an innovative procedure for breeding superior seedless grapes. The result was clearly successful.
Health Benefits of Grapes
Grapes have widely been recognized for their superior nutritional and medicinal benefits for thousands of years. The Egyptians and Greeks acknowledged their healing powers, traditionally by drinking wines. European physicians used grapevines to make ointments for eye and skin diseases.
Grape leaves were also used to treat hemorrhoids, pain, inflammation, pain and bleeding. And ripe, sweet grapes were used for treating health problems, such as nausea, cholera, smallpox, cancer, and liver and kidney diseases.
Recent research has proven grapes usefulness in balancing blood sugar levels, due to their low glycemic index or low sugar content, which ranges between and 43 and 53. Consuming grapes, grape juices and grape extracts has resulted in diabetes patients achieving increased insulin sensitivity, and better insulin regulation due to the beneficial phytonutrients they contain. Phytonutrients are also considered to contribute to longevity when eaten as a part of a regular diet.
Grapes are comprised of linoleic acid, flavanoids, Vitamin E and powerful antioxidants, called oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs), which are believed to be beneficial in treating and preventing heart disease, cancer, heart disease, edema, aging skin, bacterial infections, damage from free radicals, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and Alzheimer`s disease
To learn more about grapes, consult the following links.
- Grapes; The World’s Healthiest Foods (WHF)
- Grape Seed; University of Maryland Medical Center
- Grapes; Preserve the Harvest; Utah State University
- Bunch Grapes in the Garden; North Carolina State University
- Growing Grapes in Home Fruit Planting; Ohio State University
- A Brief History of the Grape and Its Uses; University of Kentucky (PDF)
- Fruit of the Month: Grapes; Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Thomcord Grape: Flavorful, Attractive-and Seeless! U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)