Table grapes are the berries of vines in the Vitis genus. They can be a wide range of colors including black, purple, red, amber, green, and pale. The berries grow in clusters.
Grapevines like to grow around rivers in deciduous forests or along the banks of flowing water.⁷
Grapes are a berry. A berry is a fleshy fruit without a pit produced from one ovary on one flower. That makes a lot of things berries, like cucumbers, currants, eggplants, and tomatoes but actually excludes things like strawberries and raspberries.
Grape plants are vines. Which are any plant that has a trailing or climbing growth habit. It can also refer to a part of a plant that does that. Vines can crossover from vine form to shrub. Vines “like” to have something to grow onto. In the wild that may be a tree or natural surface and in cultivation that can be a trellis or a building. If a vine doesn’t have something to grow onto (called a “support”), it can creep along the ground or stiffen up some to be a sort of low-laying shrub.¹³The prototypical botanical vines are based on those in the grape family.
There can be over 100 grapes to a bunch. If left alone a vine can spread more than 50 feet.
Grapes are not native to english-speaking lands so the word came from elsewhere. The word “grape” likely comes from a proto-Germanic word that meant “to hook” (krappen). This would be because a hook-like implement was used to harvest the grapes. In Old English, the word for grape was “winberige” which just meant “wine berry”. This change likely happened after the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Big downgrade if you ask me, wine berry is a way better name.
Fossils of prehistoric grapes go back into the Cretaceous era 66 million years ago. Species of grapes are spread widely across the northern hemisphere. There are wild grapes in both Eurasia and North America because the grape family existed before the continents separated 60 million years ago.
The human history of grapes revolves around winemaking, rather than consumption of grapes fresh.
Wild grapes would have been food for hunter gatherers. The first domestication of grapes occurred 7000-4000 BC somewhere between the Black Sea and Iran. The country of Georgia is thought to be where grapes were first domesticated for wine. Domesticated grapes may have spread out from Georgia, or the idea of domesticating grapes did causing other natural varieties to be domesticated in other parts of Asia and Europe.⁶
Grapes are featured in Egyptian Heiroglyphics, the Bible, and Homeric sagas. Grapes made their way to France in the 600s BC via Phoenicians settling in the then-Greek colony of Marseille.⁶
Meanwhile in North America, indigenous peoples were husbanding their native grape varieties. Evidence for grape consumption in North America goes back 10000 years, particularly in the Mississippi delta and upper Mid West. In addition to having agriculture in the formal-ish way it was implemented in Eurasia, Native Americans also used sylviculture to cultivate natural plants as crops in the forest. Grapes were an important crop for many native americans and were likely the subject of sylviculture. This was so prevalent that when Vikings landed in New Foundland around 1000 AD, they called it “Vinland” because of all the grapevines.⁹
During the exchange of grapevines between the Old and New worlds a massive ecological disaster happened. An insect pest called phylloxera is native to the Americas where it fed on the grapevines there. American vines had grown resistance to the pest but Eurasian vines had not. When phylloxera reached Europe it destroyed the majority of Old World grape vines. In order to save the varieties, European vines needed to be grafted on to phylloxera-resistant rootstocks from American vines. Many of these rootstocks were the ones husbanded by Native Americans for millenia.
Table grapes are full of water and accessible sugars. They are high in Vitamin K and Copper. They also contain a modest amount of Vitamin C.
Resveratrol – is a polyphenol that acts like an antioxidant in that it can protect the body from damage. It is found in the skin of red grapes. It seems to be a nebulously, all-around healthy thing that combats inflammation, aging, and diseases that spring from those processes. Not tons is known about it but it has potential and may be worth a mention.
Difference Between Wine & Table Grapes⁵
Skin – wine grapes have thicker skin that imparts more flavor and tannins to the wine. Table grapes have thin skin so they’re easier to bite into, some table grapes are grown for wine.
Size – wine grapes are smaller so the taste is more concentrated and there’s less water.
Bunches – there are fewer grapes on a wine vine, again to produce a more concentrated taste. Table grape volume per vine is maximized for yield Wine grapes produce maybe 10lb per vine, table grapes are trellis-grown and can produce up to 30lbs.
Seeds – Most wine grapes have more and larger seeds, for flavor. Table grapes have no seeds for ease of eating
Sweetness – wine grapes are sweeter, to provide more fermentation sugar. Wine grape Brix is 24-26 compared to 17-19 for table grapes.
Species – all wine grapes come from Vitis Vinifera. Some table grapes come from Vitis Vinifera, but some come from Labrusca and Rotundifolia as well.
Harvest – wine grapes are harvested later, to allow more flavor and sugar development. Table grapes are harvested earlier.
Table grapes are usually eaten fresh as is. They can also be processed into raisins, jelly, juice, vinegar, or grapeseed oil.
When selecting grapes, look for bunches with a green bendy stem. A white coating on grapes is fine. It’s called bloom and is natural. Refrigerate grapes to extend shelf life. Rinse before serving.
The Waldorf Salad we mentioned with walnuts also features grapes. Big ups to the Waldorf -Astoria hotel for supporting California produce.
Three (I now see four main varieties) varieties of grapes are grown for raisins.⁶ Sub-varieties of raisins include:
Sultana (Thompson Seedless)- a dried white grape
Muscat – (AKA Alexandria) large seeds
White Hanepoot – South African variety
Currant – a pungent, dried black grape of the Corinth variety. Not related to currants of the ribes family.
Golden Thompson Seedless Raisins do appear to be bleached. The grapes themselves are green, but the drying process turns them brown.¹⁴ They are initially grayish brown after being dried but are then dipped into .5% lye and exposed to sulfur dioxide to achieve the bleaching effect.¹⁵
Methyl Anthranilate – This is the chief aroma chemical used to create a grape flavor. Usually associated with grape soda and grape snow cones. Like banana flavor, it seems actually distinct from the fruit it is meant to resemble. Many grape varieties don’t have strong Methyl Anthranilate character, but Concord grapes do. Concords are often used to make grape jelly.
Grape Jelly – In the US we have iconic dark purple spread made from native hybrid Concord grapes that we call grape jelly. In Commonwealth countries they’d call it grape jam. It’s a major component in that most American of sandwiches, the PB&J.
Grape Seed Oil – cooking oil produced from the seeds of grapes. By-product of the wine making industry. Used in cooking.
Fruit Leather – kind of a snack strip produced from fruit. Grape byproduct is used to make them.
There were a series of commercial put on in the 80s that featured dancing and singing raisins made from claymation. They were put on by the CA raisin advisory board to promote their product. They became a minor cultural icon but were definitely a sensation at the time.
“Las doce uvas de la suerte” or “The 12 grapes of luck” is a Spanish tradition in which participants eat one grape for each strike of the bell at midnight on New Year’s Eve for good luck.
There are around 80 species of grapevine in the family Vitaceae, many of which can be crossbred with each other. They are distributed across Asia, North America, and Europe in subtropical and temperate climate zones.⁷
Vitis vinifera – this species is where the majority of wine grapes come from. Virtually all wine grapes come from this species and many table grape varieties as well.
Vitis labrusca (the fox grape) – Concord grapes and other slipskin grapes come from here. An American grape species.
Vitis aestivalis (the summer grape) – oldest American grape cultivar, difficult to grow
Vitis rotundifolia (muscadine grape) – southern american
Vitis rupestris, Vitis riparia, Vitis berlandieri – used as breeding rootstock because they are resistant to pests⁷
Vitis amurensis – Asian species
Vitis mustangensis (mustang grape) – southern USA
Vitis riparia – eastern USA & Quebec, maybe the species the Vikings saw in 1000 AD
-sultana a major variety
-muscat, flame, almeria, Niagara, concord
The below resource is probably best
Grape ratio: 71% to wine, 27% to fruit, 2 to dried
In 2020, the top producers of grapes were:
1 China – 15 mil tons
2 Italy – 8.2 mil tons
3 Spain – 6.8 mil tons
4 France – 5.8 mil tons
5 USA 5.8 mil tons
6 Turkey 4.2 mil tons
7 India 3.1 mil tons
8 Chile 2.7 mil tons
9 Argentina 2 mil tons
10 South Africa 2 mil tons
99% of domestically produced grapes come from California. They grow 81 varieties that come in green, red, and black. Grapes are available May through January. They grow around 100 million boxes of grapes each year. There are more than 330 table grape operations in California. Grapes have been cultivated in California for over 200 years.
California is the largest grower of table grapes in the US, with 85000 acres under cultivation (according to table grape wikipedia page).
Table grapes are grown in California’s San Joaquin and Coachella Valleys.
Grape Annual Cycle¹⁰
Dormancy – growth stops and the vine rests. Brought on by low temperatures and short days. This is when the vine is pruned back for the next season.
Bud Break – In spring new growth begins. Small leaves and shoots emerge using the energy stored from over winter.
Shoot Development – during spring still, growth begins to accelerate as temperature increases. Shoots and leaves spread down the trellis. Flower clusters emerge but do not bloom.
Flowering/Fruit Set – when temperatures rise above 68 the grape flowers begin to bloom, between 6-9 weeks after buds break. The flowers bloom for 8-10 days. After the bloom, the grape vines begin to grow seeds and fruits. Since most california table grapes are seedless, at this point the seed stops developing and the grape itself grows instead. Grapevines contain male & female parts on the same plant. They do not need pollinators.
Berry Formation Stage 1 – Grapes start to form as hard green berries that are acidic.
Berry Formation Stage 2 – Grapes reach half their final size. Growth slows, still very acidic, grape starts to soften, colors begin to shift to the final color.
Berry Formation Stage 3 – This is the ripening phase. Acidity decreases and sugars increase. Grapes get softer and rapidly increase in size. The skin thins, color sets in, and aroma begins to develop.
Harvesting – Unlike many fruits, grapes are harvested fully ripe. So they need to be stored well and eaten promptly. Sugar, color, size, and uniformity are all measured before harvest. They can be hand-picked, checked for spoilage vectors, and packed into crates for storage and shipping. They are then chilled to between 30-32 degrees and carefully handled until they hit the shelves.
Post Harvest – The vine’s leaves continue to gather nutrients and energy after harvest. Instead of going to the grapes, it goes into the core of the vine so it can survive winter. The leaves then grow yellow and fall off after the first frost.
Soil should be well-drained. pH should be between 5.5 & 6.5.⁴ European vines can stand around 7 pH but soils above 8 will began to suffer.
Soil needs to be sufficiently moist for proper growth. I see that table grape vines need about 2.5 acre-feet of water each year. Or 814627 gallons per acre.¹⁶
Temperature & Sun³
Grapes need 150-180 frost-free days to develop a crop.
Vines are often European table grape varieties grafted onto American rootstocks which are resistant to the devastating phylloxera parasite. Vines should be selected based on their performance in your growing region.
Grapes need sun, select a sunny area for the vineyard. Rows planted north to south will get better sunlight. South-facing slopes are great, because they avoid frost more and get more sun. Select a bare-root vine or slightly older vine to plant, rather than a seed.
Plant in early spring using a bare root plant. Trim off all broken roots, break up soil to ease root growth, water. Prune all canes coming off the root but one, so that a single trunk will grow.
Table grapes are typically grown on a trellis system, so the wires and posts of the trellises can be set up at this point.
It takes 5-6 years for a grapevine to reach full production. Grape vines can live from 50-100 years with good care. They can be propagated to continue their line indefinitely.
The first year should be spent training the vine to the trellis. This can be done by tying twine to the main shoot of the vine and attaching the other end to the trellis wire. As the shoot grows, wrap it around the twine so it goes up vertically to the wire. Once you hit the first winter, prune other growth back.
The second year, you want two shoots to train along the horizontal trellis wire. Prune back any other growth along the now-woody trunk of the vine except for two of the topmost shoots. Train those shoots down opposite sides of the wire. Trim any growth, fruits, or unnecessary buds and prune during the second winter.
The third year allow the vine to thicken out on the trellis. Let six or seven canes to grow off each lateral branch of the vine. Let them leaf, flower, fruit, then trim them back for the winter. Fruits should be limited to one cluster per vine, so energy is conserved for growth rather than unviable fruit.
Fourth year is more filling out. Lighter pruning should be necessary, more canes will grow and fruit. Every winter the canes should be pruned back to allow regrowth in the next year.
By year 5 you should have a full downward hanging canopy growing each season.
Grape vines only need light fertilization. An ounce or so of Nitrogen per plant per year. Can be broadcasted around the base of the trunk.
Pruning. Every winter the vine must be pruned back to it’s woody part so new canes can regrow each year. During the spring and summer, errant shoots and buds should be trimmed too.
A process called “girdling can be used to make grapes grow larger on the vine. A natural growth hormone “giberellic acid” can also be used to accomplish the same.
Color is a good indicator of ripeness. When a grape cluster is mature the stem that holds it to the vine turns brown from green. Taste also works well as a harvest indicator. The grapes at the tip of the cluster ripen last so taste those ones. If they taste good, harvest.
It’s best not to harvest after it rains, as wet clusters can lead to rot.
30-32 degrees. Limited storage time as grapes are picked ripe.
Weeds are a consistent problem. A vineyard should be weed free.
Fungal infections are also bad. Black Rot, Botrytic bunch rot, Crown gall, Downy mildew, Powdery mildew, Phomosis spot. Most of these can be treated via preventative fungicide regimes.
Pests can attack grapes. Berry moths, leaf hoppers, phylloxera, root borers, japanese beetles, spotted wing drosophila.
13 – Vine Wikipedia