Late summer into early fall is when grapes begin to ripen around Eastern North Carolina. In Wayne County, we are most familiar with the native muscadine grape that is commonly grown in our area. North Carolina’s climate allows for two different groups of grapes grown in the state: native muscadine grapes in the coastal and piedmont regions and European-style vinifera (or bunch) grapes in piedmont and mountain regions.
Muscadine grapes are native, relatively pest-resistant plants that grow well in our area because they thrive in the hot sandy conditions of Eastern North Carolina. The scuppernong, a popular muscadine variety, was the first grape cultivated in the United States and is the official fruit of North Carolina. The mothervine in Manteo on Roanoke Island, a nearly 500-year-old scuppernong vine, is the oldest known cultivated grapevine in the nation.
Grapes are thought to have been first cultivated more than 7,000 years ago near present-day Iran. The Spanish are credited with bringing European varieties to the United States to serve at the missions they settled in across California and the southwest in the 1700s. California’s climate provided ideal grape-growing conditions and consequently it became the leading grape-growing state.
In 2017, more than 7.36 million tons of grapes were grown commercially in the United States. California accounted for nearly 6.48 million tons, or 88%, of these grapes. Other top grape-growing states include Washington and New York. Other states with significant grape production include Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
In 2017, more than 1 million acres in the United States were producing an average of 7.36 tons of grapes per acre, valued at $6.46 million. A majority of the grapes produced go into wine production followed by dried raisins, juices and canned jams or jellies.
In 2017, North Carolina was home to 186 wineries with more than 525 individually owned grape vineyards on 2,300 acres spread across the state. At the turn of the 1900s, 25 wineries operated in North Carolina, making it one of the nation’s most productive wine states, but the industry was shuttered with the onset of Prohibition. In the late 1990s into the early 2000s, commercial production in North Carolina expanded with 20 wineries in 2001 to 34 in 2004. The expansion of the grape industry in North Carolina was due to targeting the tourist industry and an increase in public awareness of the health benefits of grapes.
North Carolina ranks 11th in the U.S. for wine production with more than 1.1 million cases in 2017. Duplin Winery, in Rose Hill, is the largest and oldest winery in the state, and is the world’s largest producer of muscadine wine. Biltmore Estate Winery in Asheville receives more than 1 million visitors annually and is one of the most-visited wineries in the U.S.
If you are looking for where to purchase fresh, local grapes, be sure to stop by the Farm Credit Farmers Market. The market is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The market is located behind The Maxwell Center at 3114 Wayne Memorial Drive, Goldsboro.
To celebrate grape season, the Farm Credit Farmers Market will be holding a Grape Day on Friday. The market will be having a grape recipe contest for those who have a delicious recipe featuring grapes that is blue-ribbon worthy. The contest is open to all ages. Entries will be received from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. The recipe must include at least 1 cup of grapes.
Contestants must be present during the contest to win and may enter more than one recipe. The recipe must be homemade, prepared at home, and presented ready to serve to three to four judges. No recipes containing alcohol are allowed. Recipes must be presented with the entry as the first-place winning recipe will be published in local media outlets.
Along with a grape recipe contest, there will also be a food demonstration by Michelle Estrada, a Wayne County Extension Family & Consumer Science agent who will give ideas for a new recipe featuring grapes to try at home. Samples of the finished product will be available for tasting.
Be sure to include fresh, local grapes with your late summer meals and celebrate grape season by attending Grape Day at the Farm Credit Farmers Market on Friday.
Got gardening questions? We can help. Contact the Wayne County Extension Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. by phone at 919-731-1433, e-mail at Master.Gardener@waynegov.com, or by stopping at the Wayne County Extension Office at The Maxwell Regional Agricultural & Convention Center, 3114B Wayne Memorial Drive, Goldsboro.
Jessica Strickland is an agriculture extension agent specializing in horticulture for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.
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Upcoming Wayne County Extension Gardening Programs
Pest Management in the Garden Workshop