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Muscadine Grapes

Historically, muscadine grape vines and the resulting fruit were discovered and recognized as a very important horticultural product, found growing in huge populations and proportions in the United States from Delaware southward along the Atlantic Seaboard. The first record of muscadine grape vine occurrence was posted in the ship logbook in the year 1524 by the navigator Giovanni de Varrazzano, who was hired as a captain from Florence, Italy by the king of France to explore and report on the inhabitants and the habitat of the New World. Captain Verrazzano described a big “white grape” (scuppernong) that was growing in great profusion at a valley in Cape Fear, N.C.

Not only were muscadine grape vines used by the American Indians for fresh fruit and juice, but they were also dried as raisins and preserved as winter snacks, as reported by Captain John Hawkins in 1565 from his sailing records from Florida.

In 1775, William Bartram in his book, Travels, reported muscadine grape vines that he had observed were virogously growing near Mobile, Al. “when ripe they are of various colours, and their juice sweet and rich.” He reported that American Indians actively preserved these grapes as raisins by drying them over gentle fires and later in the sun and air and “store them up for provision,” for winter meals.

U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson, planted vineyards and harvested muscadines at his home at Monticello, and also, he established the fruit gardens at the White House in Washington, D.C. during the early 1800’s.

Arthur Barlowe in the year, 1584, wrote to Sir Walter Raleigh extolling upon landing in N.C. the fruitful land was “full of grapes, that I think in all the world, the like abundance is not to be found.”

Responding to that letter the following year, 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh described the mother-vine of the scuppernong (white grape) muscadine with a base thickness of the grape vine stalk of two feet through, and the huge vine covered ½ acre coiling up tree trunks growing 60 feet tall. Grapes were harvested in huge numbers and supplied the Mother Vineyard Winery with fruit to ferment into ‘Virginia Dare,’ wine in Manteo, N.C. This famous wine was pink, aromatic and similar to port wine.

“Virginia Dare” wine was produced and sold during the mid-1800’s, before the Civil War, and later reported by its market representative Paul Garrett as “the finest wine in the world.” As its marketing action soared after World War I, “Virginia Dare” wine emerged as the best selling wine in the United States.

As early American explorers anticipated, muscadine grapes were destined to become a significant horticultural commodity in the United States: today being also grown in Mexico and experimental trials of hybrid muscadines have been initiated in many third world nations. Muscadine vines are immune to practically all plant pests, such as fungus, bacteria, and nematodes, and the grapes are not commonly damaged by insects. There are approximately 50 distinct species of grapes found throughout the world and more than half of these are native to the United States. Grapes are an ancient biblical fruit and were extensively grown and cultivated in vineyards by the ancient cultures of Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, Israeli, and Roman for fresh eating and for juice production and wine manufacture.

Over many centuries of grape development, new diseases mutated and spread within European ( Vitus vinifera) vineyards and threatened the very life and production of this very valuable commercial crop that had fueled the economy of many nations for centuries past. Vast vineyards of grapevines withered from newly developed, infectious diseases, however, it was discovered that European grapevines could be grafted onto American native grapevines to overcome these devastating and destructive problems. Another solution to the European plagues of grapevines was to intercross the two trans-continental species to form hybrid resistant hybrids. Much research is being done presently in using both approaches to improve present cultivar selection and to raise g

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