Growing hybrid grapes is becoming more popular for wine and eating. This popularity comes from the fact that hybrid grapes can be grown in areas where the traditional European grapes cannot survive. It also comes about because more and more people are growing grapes in their backyard to produce their own vintage wine.
What are hybrid grapes? To answer this question, we must look back in history about 100 years to when the European vineyards were being decimated by the phylloxera louse that had been brought from North America. The European grape species, Vitis vinifera, is extremely susceptible to this louse. Vineyard after vineyard was succumbing to this imported pest as well as to grape diseases that had also come from America.
But Native American species of grapes had evolved with the pest and were resistant to its attacks on the vine’s roots. In an effort to save the wine industry in France, some individuals began to cross breed the European and American species to obtain new varieties that had the wine characteristics of the European grapes and the resistance to the phylloxera louse and other diseases that the American grape species possessed.
It is from these breeding programs that the original hybrid grapes were grown. At first, the grape varieties produced were no better than their American parents. But as time has gone on, more complex hybrids have been made and the quality of the grapes has increased. Today, wines made from some hybrid grape varieties even rival the wines made in California and other traditional wine producing areas.
The way you grow hybrid grapes depends upon the varieties you choose. Some varieties’ growth habit resemble their American parents while others grow like their European parents. And then there are those that are in-between in their growth habit. The growth habit of the variety will dictate what type of trellising system you will use to grow them. It also will dictate how the vines are pruned.
European varieties and hybrids that take after them tend to grow upright. These varieties will need a vertical shoot positioning trellis system that allows you to tie up the shoots as they grow upward. American varieties and hybrids that resemble them have a growth habit that droops. These vines are usually trained to a high wire about six feet off the ground and the shoots are allowed to grow downward over the growing season.
You can find a hybrid variety that will grow in almost anywhere in the United States. Alaska is about the only state you won’t find one adapted to. The right hybrid grape variety for your location is dependent upon the percentage of native species found in the cross. Varieties adapted to northern locations tend to have a high percentage of the native Vitis riparia that lives in areas where the winters can go as low as -35F. Southern varieties generally have Vitis aestivalis in their background if from the southeast or other native species if found in areas like Texas.
Grape hybrids often are known by only the breeder’s number. They may be called S.V 5-276 or S. 7053. Only the best of hybrids have a true name, such as Foch or Seyval. These named varieties have shown their worth over many years and are usually being used to make wines commercially where a name is important on the label.
Growing hybrid grapes may mean having to deviate from the traditional grape growing methods. Some grape hybrids produce way too much fruit because of hybrid vigor. You will have to remove some of the fruit early in the growing season to prevent them from over-bearing and succumbing to premature death. Each variety will behave slightly different. You will have to get to know the grape varieties you grow and adjust accordingly.
The big question is which varieties to grow? The answer to this depends on where you live. You must buy varieties that are adapted to your region. Some hybrid grape varieties mature their fruit in 135-140 days while others need 170 days or more to get ripe. The goal is to have ripe fruit so be sure that you’re not growing a long season variety in a short season.
Hybrid grapes also vary in how winter hardy they are. Make sure that you get a very hardy variety if you live where the winters are cold. Or a southern adapted variety if you live where there’s hot humid summers and long growing seasons. Winter hardiness is not the concern under those conditions.
What you are going to use the fruit for is also a concern when picking the right variety. Most hybrids have been developed to make wine. But there are varieties for eating too. Most of the grape varieties that you buy locally at a greenhouse or nursery are eating varieties. You will need to go online to find wine varieties for sale.
If you’re passion is to grow grape vines in your backyard either for wine or eating, I suggest that you look into hybrid grapes. These have been bred to get the best of the tastes of the European grapes combined with the resistances and winter hardiness of the native grape species. Whatever your growing conditions are, you’ll find a hybrid grape variety that is adapted to your area and needs.