National Geographic : 1951 Sep
Fruit of the Vine ONE way to get an idea of the scope of world grape production is to start with California. On a little over half a million acres, Californians grow a little less than 3,000,000 tons of grapes a year. These pro vide more than nine-tenths of all the wine, raisin, and table grapes sold in this country. A single vineyard, in Cucamonga Valley, covers 5,000 acres. Yet California produces less than ten per cent of the world's grape supply and only about three to four percent of its wine. World-wide, grape growing is the biggest of all fruit industries. Used mostly for wine, grapes are produced in tremendous quantities in all the Mediter ranean countries of Europe, and in all other countries having moderately dry summers and equable temperatures. Both grape culture and the art of wine making were known to men before the beginning of recorded history. The Old World grape, Vitis vinifera, has been cultivated so long that its place of origin cannot be determined with accuracy. Seeds of grapes found in Swiss lake dwellings date to the Bronze Age in Europe. Grape seeds have been found in the oldest tombs of Egypt, and there is evidence that the Egyp tians grew grapes and made wine 6,000 years ago. The oldest Hebrew, Greek, and Roman writings all refer to grapes and wine making. The best evidence indicates that the vini fera grape originally centered in the area about the Caspian and Black Seas, the great cradle of deciduous fruits. It was spread both by natural means, with birds and mam mals carrying the seed, and by the hand of prehistoric man. North America Was a Land of Vines The first European visitors to North Amer ica, the Norse voyagers, found native grapes so abundant that they called the country Vinland. The first English settlers in Vir ginia found great vines climbing over the trees, especially along the streams. In quality, however, the wild American grapes were far from the choice European kinds, improved through thousands of years of selection. Why not transplant the Old World varieties? Steps were quickly taken to import superior European vines. Almost every colony had laws to encourage grape growing. Literally hundreds of vineyards were set, and skilled French vine growers were brought over. There even were penalties for settlers who failed to plant grapes, and rewards were offered for success in vine growing and wine making. Yet despite great effort, no one attained success with the Old World grape. In the "vineyard paradise" of the Colonies there were fungus diseases and insect pests that at tacked and destroyed the plantings of Old World grapes. To this day, and even with modern insecticides and fungicides, the Old World grape is not successfully grown in the humid climate of eastern North America. While the eastern colonists were strug gling to establish vinifera grapes in eastern America-and failing-the picture was far dif ferent in the West. The Spaniards estab lished a colony in New Mexico in 1598 and founded missions in California beginning in 1769. There the Old World grape flourished in the dry growing season and mild winters. Production of the Old World grape in the United States is today largely limited to the southwestern States. Varieties grown have largely been imported directly from Europe. The largest portion of these grapes is dried for raisins, though large quantities are made into wine, and thousands of carloads are shipped to all parts of the country for use fresh. Our "Natives" Still Thrive in the East In all other sections of the United States, varieties derived in part or entirely from na tive species are grown. In the South the Muscadine varieties, derived from the species V. rotundifolia, are best adapted. They are highly disease-resistant, have a tough skin, and are borne in very small clusters. In more northern areas varieties derived from V. labrusca, such as Concord and Niagara, are mainly grown. The American grapes are hardier to winter cold than the Old World grape. They are generally considered less suitable for wine making, though excellent wine can be made from many varieties. They are the only kinds used for'making grape juice, and are superior to the vinifera grape for jellies and jams. They have a less meaty pulp than most Old World varieties, so are less suitable for raisins. An insect pest that attacks the roots of grapes, the root louse phylloxera, was native in eastern America and was accidentally taken to Europe at least a century ago. For a time it threatened the existence of grape growing in many European regions. Ameri can species, however, are resistant to this sucking insect. Now most European vineyards are grown on roots partly or wholly of American stock. These stocks are also used for Old World varieties in California and in many other grape-growing regions of the world. Thus today the grapes of the East and the grapes of the West are truly joined in practically all grape production of the world. American varieties have also spread to other world areas where, because of winter cold or hu midity, the vinifera grape is poorly adapted.