The classic example of long life in grape culture is the famous grape vine in Hampton Court, England, known to be hundreds of years old, with a trunk six feet three inches in circumference and one branch 150 feet long. In that northern climate it is protected by a glass grapery, but because of skillful pruning and care it is still producing large bunches of luscious white grapes.
We know, now, that it was wild grape vines which so impressed the first European visitors to North America, Lief Ericson and his Norsemen, that they named the country “Vinland.” When the colonists arrived, they thought the quality of the native fruit much inferior to the European varieties they were accustomed to, so they started quickly to import European vines. Almost every colony had laws to encourage grape growing and hundreds of vineyards were set. Skilled French vine growers were imported, and there were even penalties in some places for settlers who failed to plant grapes.
History of the Concord
Efforts to introduce Old World grapes (types of Vitis vinifera), however, were to little avail, and as late as 1798, the Dufour’s Kentucky Vineyard Society’s $10,000 experiment using European vines was unsuccessful despite the greatest attention to every detail of their care. Failures were mostly due to the ravages of the phylloxera, a root louse, which attacked the “alien” vines. Native vines, known as Northern Fox grapes – Vitis labrusca – were able to resist the attacks of this sucking insect.
A limited success had been achieved with Isabella and Catawba varieties, which carried a blending of American and Old World grapes, but their successful range was so limited that Ephraim Wales Bull of Concord, Massachusetts, began experimenting. He planted selected fruit of the wild grape in his garden and nursed the resulting seedlings for six years.
Only one proved to be worth keeping. In his words, “The seeds from this were in turn planted and from these I obtained ‘Concord.’ On the 10th of September, 1849, I was enabled to pick a bunch of grapes.” In the January, 1854, issue of Magazine of Horticulture, he wrote, “The Concord grape is a seedling, in the second generation, of our native grape. The seedling from which the Concord was raised grew near to a Catawba, and it is quite possible it was impregnated by it.