What is a muscadine grape?

Guide to Muscadine Wine

Deep Dive August 31, 2016 – Updated on March 27th, 2019

Muscadine wines don’t have the greatest of reputations. But why? As we delved into understanding one of America’s true native wine grapes, we realized that Muscadine grapes (including Scuppernongs) are uniquely amazing, desired for their incredible super fruit properties–but the wines are a bit misunderstood.

“It has that hill-billy-red-neck-cheap-wine-get-drunk persona.”
-Greg Ison, Muscadine Expert, Ison’s Nursery and Vineyards

Muscadine is a species of grape called Vitis rotundifolia which is native to the Southeastern United States. There are several different cultivars of Muscadine grapes that range in color from green to black and typically have large berries (sometimes as big as a golf ball).

It is supposed that there are about 3,200 acres of Muscadines planted throughout the Southeastern United States mainly in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Florida.

Muscadine vines can grow over 35 feet a year. SourceUSDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Health Properties

Muscadine grapes might be the most super of superfruits. Muscadine grapes have super high levels of polyphenols (antioxidants), resveratrol, and ellagic acid. In a recent study with, Neil Shay at Oregon State University showed that ellagic acid in Muscadine wine targeted conditions related to obesity, including reducing fatty liver (read more about that here). By the way, ellagic acid is not produced in any other wine grape.

Tasting Notes

Typically, Muscadine wines are made in a sweet style although nearly dry styles (usually around 10 g/L RS) can be found. If you’ve never tasted Muscadine, rest-assured they are unlike any wine you’ve ever had. It is an acquired taste for sure, and sensitive wine tasters may become overwhelmed by the aromatics.

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Primary Flavors: Ripe Banana, Bruised Apple, Lime Peel, Cranberry, Rubber Cement

Wines have very intense aromas of ripe/brown bananas with subtle notes of lime, honeydew melon or cranberry (depending on if the wine is red or white). Some of the wines we tasted gave off a rubber cement smell where others offered a more pine resin like note.

On the palate, the wines range from dry to sweet with a medium body, medium-plus acidity and intense flavors of banana or rubber cement and more subtle notes of lime, peony, honeysuckle (for whites) or strawberry and cranberry (for reds). The astringency is present towards the middle-back of the taste and felt subtly around the sides of the mouth. The finish is medium long with saline and pine cone notes or notes of rubber cement and sweetish dried fruit.

Aging? Wines oxidize easily and are best drunk young.
Serving: Serve and store chilled (both reds and whites).
Quality: Because of limited production in the South, quality wines are hard to source.

*For the tasting notes described above we tasted a range of styles from Duplin and Wood Mill Winery.

Facts About Muscadine

This 400 year old “Mother Scuppernong” vine is still producing grapes on Roanoke Island. source

  • A single vine can grow upwards of 35 feet per year and produce up to 90 lbs of grapes.
  • One of the oldest grape vines in the world is a Scuppernong (a cultivar of Muscadine) planted around 1584, in Manteo on Roanoke Island.
  • Vitis rotundofolia has 2 more chromosomes than Vitis vinifera
  • Muscadines grow well in Zones 7–10–in places without too much frost.
  • Grapes ripen independently and must be hand harvested from August through October.
  • Sweetness in ripe grapes is far lower than Vitis vinifera (10–15 Brix vs 20+) and wines are commonly chaptalized to reach 10% ABV.
  • Muscadine varieties known for winemaking include Scuppernong, Carlos, Ison, Noble and Higgins

Last Word

Muscadines are a fascinating native species to North America that has only just begun to be understood as a wine. Since Muscadine grapes are not a high value crop (a ton sells for a mere $300–$400 a ton, compared to >$2000 a ton for Pinot Noir), it’s hard to justify the research and development needed to craft a new identity of Muscadine, but people are trying. For example, instead of adding sugar to the fermentation and making a sweet wine, producers might embrace lower sugar levels and experiment with kombucha. Either way, we’re keeping our eyes open for someone to come along and find the right way to express this grape.

Citrus Information

The Health Benefits of Muscadine Grapes

The next time you sit down to dinner, don’t forget the bottle of wine – Florida that is. Most Florida wines are made from muscadine grapes – a variety of grapes that contain the highest level of antioxidants ever tested in a natural product.

Muscadine grapes are fat free, high in fiber and high in antioxidants. The health benefits of wine have been studied for years and research has indicated that moderate drinking can reduce heart attacks by 50 percent. According to Dr. Serge Renaud, a French scientist and pioneer in alcohol research “Antioxidants in wine help prevent damage to blood vessels, help prevent heart disease….as many as 400 other chemicals in wine raise the level of HDL in blood. HDL is the good cholesterol that helps prevent heart attack and stroke.”

You never thought that having a glass of wine with dinner had a purpose other than helping to wash down that last savory bite of chicken, beef or fish. However, the health benefits of drinking wine are greater when wine was consumed with meals instead of consumed by itself, according to Dr. Mauizio Trevisan from the University of Buffalo. “Drinking with dinner assures that the protective effects of alcohol are strongest in the evening, when fats from the dinner meal circulate through the bloodstream and carry over to the next morning, when most heart attacks take place.”

According to M.D. News Magazine, recent tests show that resveratrol from muscadine grapes can block cancer cells from attacking organs, thus preventing the spread of disease once it starts. Programs at the Strang Cancer Prevention Center in New York City showed that resveratrol was very effective as an inhibitor of the growth of COX, a compound present in breast cancer and other cancers. Compounds that inhibit COX offer promise as a cancer prevention agent by making cancer cells vulnerable to the body’s natural defenses. Initial studies showed that resveratrol inhibits tumor growth at three different stages – initiation, promotion and progression. Growing research also notes that additional benefits are in the grapes themselves. “If you don’t drink wine, try some jams or a muffin made from muscadines,” says Dr. Betty Ector, nutrition researcher at Mississippi State University. “They’re an even better source of resveratrol. One half serving (two fluid ounces) of unfiltered muscadine juice, one serving of muscadine jam, one medium muffin, or one-tenth serving of muscadine sauce contains about the same amount of resveratrol as four fluid ounces of red wine”

Florida has 16 unique vineyards throughout the state that produce wines from a variety of muscadine grapes and other Florida agricultural products.

FGGA brochure story

Gardening with Muscadine Grapes

Vitis rotundifolia, the first native grape species to be cultivated in North America, is one of the top sustainable crops that can be grown north Florida. Muscadines prefer deep, fertile soils, which is why they are commonly found growing along river banks. They are easy to grow throughout Florida, and are highly tolerant of disease and insect pressure — making them easy to grow without pesticides. Muscadines rarely sustain frost injury as their bloom time is late April.

The majority of wild muscadines produce dark fruit although others, known as scuppernongs, bear bronze fruit. While wild muscadines are dioecious (requiring a male and female plant for cross-pollination), many self-fertile cultivars are available, and often yield 40% – 50% fruit more than the female cultivars. Cultivar selection will depend on whether you are growing for fresh market or to process into wine, juice, or jelly. To learn more about cultivars that have been extensively trialed, visit: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs100.

Cultivation

Muscadines require full sun and a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.5. They are adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions but prefer loamy sands. It is important to avoid planting in low-lying areas due to poor air circulation and water drainage, which increase the chances of waterlogging and frost injury.

The proper time to plant bare-root vines is during the dormant months of December through February. When provided adequate irrigation, container-grown vines can be planted any time of the year. As muscadines are shallow rooted and do not compete well for nutrients, weed control is extremely important for vine growth and productivity.

Harvest

Depending on the cultivar, muscadines can be harvested from late July to late September. Methods include picking bunches by hand, shaking berries loose from the vine onto a tarp, or using mechanical harvesters. Multiple harvests may be required and schedule varies according to cultivar. Plan to harvest early or late in the day to best preserve fruit quality.

Eating Muscadines:

Many prefer to squeeze out the inner flesh of the grape and discard the skins, however, all muscadine grape skin is edible and is where the antioxidants are found!

The Muscadine Grape: www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs100

by Terra Freeman

Posted: February 8, 2018

Category: Fruits & Vegetables, Home Landscapes

Tags: muscadine

Fruit & Nut Resources

George Ray McEachern and Marvin L. Baker
Extension Horticulturists
Texas A&M University

March 6, 1997

Muscadine grapes (Vitis rotundifolia) are native to East Texas. They thrive in slightly acid soils and have good disease resistance which makes them particularly suited to the humid climates of East Texas. There are less than 50 acres of commercial vineyards, but muscadines are very popular in gardens, on arbors, and as screens and borders.

The highly flavorful fruits of muscadines are particularly popular for jams, jellies, and juices and are also excellent as fresh fruit, though the skin is tough. There is also some interest in muscadines for home and commercial winemaking.

Varieties

The most recently named varieties of muscadines are perfect flowered or self-fruiting. These will also serve as pollinators for the female varieties. When planting a vineyard, a pollinator variety should be set a minimum of every third vine in every third row.

Most varieties ripen from mid-August through September in East Texas.

  1. Regale is a very productive purple variety with medium-sized fruits borne on loose, uniform-ripening clusters of 10 to 20 berries each. It has very good quality berries with a wet stem scar and is self-fruitful. It begins ripening in early August.
  2. Summit is one of the most productive varieties grown in East Texas. It is a very large-fruited bronze grape with exceptionally sweet flavor. It has a dry stem scar and good keeping quality. It requires a pollinator.
  3. Higgins is a large-fruited, productive bronze grape. It has very good flavor, requires a pollinator, and begins ripening in late August or early September.
  4. Doreen is a recent release with green, medium-sized berries that dislodge easily from the vine. Doreen was the top producer among varieties in Texas Agricultural Experiment Station tests at Overton in 1981. It has a football shaped berry with a dry stem scar and has excellent keeping quality. It is self-fruitful and ripens from mid-September through early October.
  5. Cowart is a large-fruited purple variety. It produces well, has good quality, and is self-fruitful.
  6. Carlos is a medium-sized bronze grape. It is very productive and vigorous and has good quality. It is self-fruitful.
  7. Fry is a very large bronze grape with exceptional quality. It requires a pollinator. It begins ripening in late August or early September.

Soil

Muscadines are best suited to the fertile, loamy soils of East Texas that are acid with a soil pH of 6.0. Problems with chlorosis are usually encountered in soils that have a pH 7.0 or above.

Deep, well-drained, sandy soil is optimum. Muscadines will not tolerate “wet feet” and should not be planted on soils with poor drainage. If adequate drainage is doubtful, plant the vines on a raised row that will allow adequate drainage in all directions.

Climate

Muscadines are a southern crop requiring warm winters–they will freeze to the ground if grown in areas receiving winter temperatures less than 5 degrees to 10 degrees F. Muscadines cannot be grown north of climatic zone 7A. When grown on well-drained soils, they can withstand exceedingly high levels of annual precipitation. Unlike bunch grapes, complications from Black Rot and high relative humidity are not major limiting factors.

Establishing the Vineyard

Establish the vineyard by setting the posts 10 feet apart in 10-foot rows. The plants will be set at the same spacing as the posts. Posts should be wood or metal fence posts. Posts in the row should be a minimum of 7 feet long with at least 2-inch tops. They should be set at least 2 feet deep in the soil. End posts should be 8 feet long with 5-inch tops. These should be set at least 3 feet deep in the soil.

Propagation

Muscadines are propagated by layering. Layering is done by taking a lower cane and placing it under the soil during the dormant season. During the second dormant season, the rooted cane is removed from the soil and a new plant is obtained.

Planting

Set vines in late winter after the danger of hard freezes is past. Care should be taken to keep the roots moist while planting by keeping the plants in a container of water or by wrapping the roots with wet burlap.

Dig the planting hole wide enough to allow the roots to be spread and set the plants 1 or 2 inches deeper than they grew in the nursery. Set the plants immediately against the posts so that they may be used for training. Fill the planting hole with loose topsoil, pack firmly, and thoroughly water the newly set plant. Never add fertilizer to the planting hole.

Cut the tops of the dormant plant back to approximately two buds. Growth from these buds should be allowed to develop freely during the first year to develop a strong root system.

Trellising

Use one 10-gauge wire 66 inches high from the soil surface and connected to 7-foot posts which are set every 10 feet. Vines are planted every 20 feet.

Training

Train two trunks up the fence posts the second year. Loosely tie the shoot to the post every 6 inches in order to develop a straight trunk. Remove any extra shoots once the shoot being trained appears safe from accidental breakage. Also, pinch off any side shoots, but not leaves, from the shoot being trained. Train each of the shoots in opposite directions down the wire.

Pruning

Figure 1. Single curtain pruning systems for muscadine grapes.

Prune in the months between November and February. If pruned after December, the vines will bleed water profusely. This is common and not a problem. On mature vines, spurs are selected along the horizontal trunk or cordon every 6 inches. The spurs should be pruned to 2 or 3 buds on 3- and 4-year-old vines and lengthened to 4 or 5 buds as the vine matures and vigor increases. Remove shoots not needed for spurs or fruiting arms. Remove vigorous shoots as they develop at the bend near the top of the posts. The single curtain pruning system is illustrated in Figure 1.

Fertilization

Muscadines respond well to applications of balanced N-P-K fertilizers such as 4-1-2 or 3-1-2. Unless specific deficiency symptoms are found, no other fertilizer mineral is necessary in Texas.

Apply approximately one pound of fertilizer per year of vine age up to a maximum of four pounds. Applications in year one and year two are best applied in small 1/4 pound increments every two weeks in April, May, and June. A single application in February or March is usually adequate on mature vines. Keep fertilizer at least 18 inches from the trunk of vines. Avoid applying fertilizer in sod middles.

Weed Control

Muscadine roots are very shallow and should not be mechanically cultivated. Disking or other forms of tillage damages roots and reduces vine vigor.

Weeds in first year vines should be controlled by hoeing out about a 3-foot circle around each vine. Kill weeds with ROUNDUP or RELY after the second year. Protect the trunks with growth tubes, aluminum foil, or paper.

Control weed growth in row middles with mowing. This will avoid danger of root pruning from disking and will help keep soil erosion in check.

Water Requirements

Muscadines are commonly grown in East Texas without irrigation, but low summer rainfall often limits fruit size and production of dryland vines. Irrigation is essential for establishment of vines in years one, two, and three.

Irrigation requirements will vary depending upon the soil, vine vigor, and weather conditions. General guidelines that can be used as a basis for applying water with a drip irrigation system are given below.

Water Applied to Each Vine (Gallons Per Week)

April-June July-Sept.
Year 1 7 14
Year 2 14 28
Year 3 28 56

Adjust irrigation rates as necessary to compensate for extremes in soil drainage or weather. Reduce irrigation in September or after harvest in order to harden the vines for winter. Serious freeze injury can result if irrigation and fertilization are continued too late into the fall.

Harvesting

Muscadine varieties ripen from early August through September. Mature fruit are easily dislodged from the vine. Ripe berries can be harvested rapidly by placing a canvas or catching frame under the vine and shaking the vine or wire very hard. Vines should be harvested every two to five days.

Varieties with a wet stem-end scar, such as Regale, will not store well and should be processed soon after harvest. Varieties with a dry stem scar, such as Summit and Doreen, will keep well for at least a week if refrigerated at 35 degrees to 45 degrees F.

Marketing and Processing

Market outlets for muscadines in Texas are limited. Pick-your-own and direct consumer sales are possible. There are some limited sales to commercial wineries. Commercial marketing through grocery store chains and similar outlets for fresh produce has not been developed. Large muscadine plantings are not advisable unless larger outlets can be developed.

Muscadine Grape Vines: Difficult To Control In Your Landscape

Wild muscadine vines are leafing out now and are ready to grow over trees, shrubs, or anything else in their path.

By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director

The climb to the top is always a challenge, but it is the goal of many. The route is never a straight line or simple.

There are constantly obstacles to identify, assess and then overcome. There are breaches and gulfs which test resolve with resolutions bordering on the incredulous.

Only the hardiest with an obsessive focus on reaching the pinnacle and the infinite patients to try every possible course will ever make it to the top. When the ultimate objective has been reached, it is time to spread out, conquer and defend the high point from other interlopers.

While this truism fits many situations involving people, it has been an ongoing competition in the Wakulla County’s natural environment since before recorded history began. Today, wild muscadine grapevines continue this age-old practice with their slow, but inevitable progress up and over anything within their reach.

The muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) is native to the southeastern U.S. and was the first native grape species known to be cultivated in North America. Its native range extends from Delaware to central Florida and occurs in all states along the Gulf Coast to east Texas.

Muscadine grapes grow well throughout Florida, although performance is meagre in soils with very poor drainage, or calcareous content. These are soils which are very high in calcium, having developed from limestone deposits long ago.

This grape is in the same genus as the American bunch grapes, Vitis labrusca, which will not grow in this region of the country. Both V. Labrusca and its European cousin V. Vinifera quickly succumb to Pierce’s Disease, a bacteria common in this part of the country.

Wild muscadine grapes are functionally dioecious, in effect male and female. This is because of incomplete stamen formation in female vines and incomplete pistil formation in male vines.

Male vines account for the majority of the wild muscadine grape population, and bare no fruit. They are, however, required for cross pollination so the female vines produce.

In the wild, both male and female vines will climb up almost anything to in search of more sunlight. Trees are an especially susceptible to a heavy infestation of chocking coverage.

Small trees can be overcome with the weight and sun blocking capacity of wild muscadine vines. The parasitic relationship usually results in the death of the tree because of the weight of accumulated vines and excessive shading which stresses the tree’s growth capacity.

Central vines can exceed two inches in diameter, with each producing more vines at each node or joint along its way. A dense, interlaced tangle develops after a few years and any nodes touching the soil will put down roots.

Clipping the vines above their roots will kill the individual vine, but sprouting at the soil level occurs when the weather is warm. The individual cuts to secondary vines will result in vines “bleeding” sap when soil temperatures are high, but there is no evidence this is injurious to the overall vine.

To control in a landscape, wild muscadines must be aggressively pruned at the soil level or treated with herbicides. Repeated treatments and continues monitoring will be necessary.

Only the hardiest with an obsessive focus will success in controlling this native species.

To learn more about wild muscadines in Wakulla County, visit the UF/IFAS Wakulla County website at http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco or call 850-926-3931.

by Les Harrison

Posted: March 24, 2017

Category: Fruits & Vegetables, Home Landscapes, Pests & Disease

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