Grape, a vine and the fruit it bears. Grapes were perhaps the first fruit to be cultivated. They may be eaten fresh or in the dried form (raisins), or made into jams and jellies. Grape juice is consumed as a beverage and fermented to make wine.
Grapes are native to the middle-latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere, but are grown in almost every country where the climate is favorable. The European, or Old World, grape was probably derived from a wild species growing around the Caspian and Black seas, and was cultivated as long as 6,000 years ago.
Wine making was known to the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean region. The fruit and leaves of the grape are often used as symbols of revelry in classical literature. There is evidence that North American Indians cultivated some native species of grapes before the time of Columbus.
The leading grape-producing countries usually are Italy, France, the United States, Spain, Turkey, and Argentina. California produces about 90 per cent of the United States output. Other producing states include New York, Washington, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. About 55 per cent of the nation's crop is crushed for juice and wine; 30 per cent is dried to make raisins; and 15 per cent is consumed fresh.
Grapevines have thick, woody stems and extensive root systems. The leaves vary to some extent in size and color according to variety, but are usually dark green with either three or five lobes. The leaves are arranged alternately in two rows along the stems. Tendrils grow opposite most of the leaves. Fruit-bearing shoots grow laterally from the main stem. In most varieties, each shoot bears two flower clusters. Flowers are small, fragrant, and greenish-white.
The grape, botanically classified as a berry, is juicy, smooth-skinned, and either round or oblong. Ripe grapes have a wide range of color according to the variety: white, green, red, purple, or purplish-black. Each grape usually contains two seeds, but some kinds have more, and seedless kinds have been cultivated.
The European grape is the species most widely grown and of the greatest commercial importance. In the United States it is grown chiefly in California. It is also grown in South America, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Since European varieties are susceptible to the root louse, an insect pest that destroys the roots, they are often grafted to disease-resistant rootstocks from American varieties.
The most important American species is the fox grape, which includes the Concord, Delaware, and Catawba varieties. It is native to eastern Canada and the United States south to Georgia, but is also grown in the Midwest. The muscadine grape, native to the southeastern states and parts of the southwest, includes the Eden, James, and scuppernong varieties. The summer, or bunch, grape is native to the region east of the Mississippi from New York State to the Gulf of Mexico. It is often used as a rootstock because of its hardiness and high resistance to disease and pests.
There are thousands of commercially grown varieties of grapes, all derived from the European grape and a few American species. They are classified by use as wine, table, raisin, or sweet-juice grapes. Wine grapes are classified as table-wine or dessert-wine varieties.
Table grapes are sometimes grown in hothouses, but by far the greatest production is in vineyards. All grapes require a temperate climate, preferably dry and sunny. Cool to moderately cold winters are needed to give the plants a resting period. The growing period is fairly long. Soils should be deep, light, and well drained. Vineyards are often planted in terraces on steep hillsides.
Grapevines are usually grown from cuttings that are rooted in nurseries. They are often grafted to root-stock of other species before being transplanted to vineyards. The young vines are planted from 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 m) apart in rows 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 m) apart. They are trained up on wooden supports or wire trellises, and are pruned each year.
Grapes belong to the grape family, Vitaceae. The European grape is Vitis vinifera; fox grape, V. labrusca; muscadine grape, V. rotundifolia; summer grape, V. aestivalis. Most eastern varieties are derived from V. aestivalis.