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Few people realize that when the French first explored Florida they were amazed at the grapes growing wild. In the year 1565 these grapes made the original American wine. How palatable a taster would find this wine today is questionable but the disease resistance of the grapevines is not. With Florida's punishing heat, daily rain, high humidity, disease, and pests, any grapevine that thrives is a marvel. Some of these wild grapevines have been selected and used by grape breeders.
If you are seeking to grow grapes in Florida, first consider what you want to use the grapes for. Muscadines (rotundifolia) do well for fresh eating. You can find muscadines in season at Publix supermarkets. The most successful cultivars for sweeter wines are Noble (red) and Carlos (white). You could visit one of the Florida wineries and see if you like their wine. If the wine has a proprietary name like "Southland Red" you may not be getting primarily Florida grapes. Look for the grape name on the front label. If it is a blend, the smaller wineries may freely reveal what grapes the wine was made from. Then do some research on which grapes you want to grow. Some muscadines have multiple uses.
The classic French varieties, like Merlot and Chardonnay (vinifera), die within a few seasons in Florida. Grape breeders have made crosses between these wine grapes and wild grapes with some success. Most of these hybrid grapevines still require a lot of work to be productive. Muscadines are much easier to grow.
With such a limited choice for wine grapes, I became interested in the work of private grape breeders. With decades of patient breeding three Southerners attempted thousands of grapevine crosses. Little known outside an obscure circle of grape breeders three Bobs, Bob Farrer, Bob Dunstan, and Bob Zehnder, worked for the perfect grape. Bob Zehnder used no fungicides in his vineyard. You can read a history of their advances in a book authored by Tom DeWolf.
Their combined work overcame genetic incompatibility to produce the first fertile vinifera x rotundifolia hybrid and more. Some of their breeding pedigree charts go all the way back to the early 1900's. Yet, to a large extent, the work of these private grape breeders has received little public interest. I have been trying to continue on the foundation efforts of these Southern grape breeders. I have nothing to release yet, but maybe I will get lucky in a decade or two.
Thanks for visiting,
FAMU 05 Grapes
FL Grape History
FL Growers Assoc
UF GRB Study