Grapes are a miracle. They often produce enormous quantities of fruit packed with precious sugar and flavor with very little input. I recently attended a grape tasting at local fruit enthusiast Richard Jeske’s house. He and his wife host this tasting almost every year, where he collects other peoples opinions on his collection of grape varieties. I can relate. I’m always curious about what people think of the apples I grow. I hold impromptu tastings and hand them out when I go places. Richard has other fruit trees, vines and bushes, but his main interest and efforts have been among grapes. He generously prints up a list with descriptions and brings cuttings to the Boonville scion exchange each winter to give away. He is the reason I have any good grapes here. He's been doing with grapes for a long time, what I've been doing with apples here for a shorter time. He also sells rooted vines.
There were 30 grape varieties on the main tables. I went through systematically and wrote down my favorites. I plan to put in more grapes here, and have been meaning to go back to this tasting and then get cuttings for everything I like so I can further test them. I have 4 varieties here now all of which are pretty good to excellent. and two of which I’ve already reviewed in youtube videos, linked below. Here are my favorites from this tasting.
Fantasy: This grape is huge and seedless. It has a crunchy texture, which I like. The flavors are mild, but very pleasant. It makes gigantic grapes, which is cool, but they take a long time to dry.
Saturn: This is similar to Fantasy right down to the shape, except that it is smaller. It probably had just a little bit more flavor. I will probably grow both of them.
Mars: This is a big, seeded grape. It is flavorful, but I’m not sure I can describe it. There were other similar large round blue grapes, but this was just the one I liked the best, though not by a large margin. I think the juice would be excellent.
New York Muscat: A very flavorful muscat cross. It has good muscat flavor, but without the harsh dusty flavored, or coarse unrefined animal like musk that some of them have. One of them, St. Vallier, tasted like laundry soap, but the woman next to me though that was the best grape ever. Different strokes. I’m not a huge muscat fan and most of them didn’t appeal to me. I’m sure this one would make amazing juice.
Summer Royal: Large round and crunchy. I don’t remember much else, just that I liked it. Like many of the large crunchy seedless grapes, it's not overflowing with sensational flavor.
Glenora: This is a small crunchy blueberry shaped grape. I really enjoy it, though it is finicky to eat because many of the fruits are very small. It also tends to fall off with the stem attached, which makes it harder to process. I will keep a vine though for sure. I wouldn’t plant more than one though. Video review here.
Interlaken: I already have this one. It is similar to Himrod, which I also have, but I like the Interlaken better. It is a soft textured seedless green grape. My friend, local fruit expert and keeper of Feijoas Mark Albert also grows this in the hotter valley and swears it is the best thing going for reliability but also being of high quality. It is a very good grape. It’s not exciting, but my vine is also vigorous and productive and good eating.
Golden Muscat: This is another muscat on the mild side. Extremely sweet, soft, seeded. Again, no doubt would make an amazing juice. This is a crowd favorite.
Delight: Delightful crunchy seedless grape. Richard says it makes a small compact vine.
Reliance: This is my favorite of the four grapes that I already grow here, and Richard says it is very popular at tastings. So, I’m already a big fan and did a video review last year. It has some muscat flavor, but uniquely so. I highly recommend it.
Swenson Red: This one was stashed away in the limited quantity stash for fruit geeks like me to taste. It may have been my favorite in the whole tasting. I’m definitely picking that one up if I can get a cutting or plant this winter. It is had a sweet candy like flavor. I think it was seedless, but don’t remember for sure. The grapes are small.
I regret not spending more time picking Richard’s brain about the growth habits, disease resistance and any other relevant bits of info on all of these selections. He did say that he has almost no problem with anything except the pure European vines. He seemed to be saying that the hybrids and muscats are basically disease free.
I hope to do some sizeable grape plantings here in the future, but I haven’t yet located where I want them in relation to other infrastructure and plantings. I also have vague plans for a self supporting grape arbor, but again, haven’t settled on a location. In the mean time. I’d really like to get cuttings for all of these and plant them somewhere for further observation over the coming years. It is one thing to taste a grape a couple times and decide it is probably worth growing, and another to live with it a few years and see how it fares. How productive is it? How vigorous? What color and shape are the leaves (some go bright red in the fall)? And will the fruit grow on me or become boring? And then there is raisin making, grape syrup making and juice. I think I’ll forgo wine making for the most part.
With the quantities of sugars and juice I currently consume, growing a ton of grapes sounds like a good idea. I’ve done my own hot packed grape juice in the past and it is truly amazing. The grapes have to compete with kiwi vines for arbor space, but I’ll find someplace to put them. I’ve got some cool ideas for soil modification etc..
I also took a bunch of apples and put them out for people to taste. They didn’t get a ton of play competing with all those grapes, but some of the results were interesting. Wickson as always was a winner. Not surprisingly King David too. Margil was also popular. Most gratifying though was that my first seedling apple was well received. Yes, five years into my apple breeding efforts, I have a fruit. It is actually an open pollinated seedling though, not one that I crossed intentionally.. More on that soon. I’m going to have so much fun making that video! For now, lets just say it has had a lot of fans and not much in the way of detractors.