My husband and I have submitted a contract on an historic home built in 1680 in Maine. It is a lovely old farmhouse on a river with beautiful wood floors, plenty of fireplaces to ward off the winter chill, a detached barn for his woodworking shop, an orchard and Concord grape vines. We’ve grown apples, cherries and pears before, but we’ve never had grape vines. I wasn’t sure about how to harvest them or what I could make with them and decided to do a little research.
The Concord grape is derived from the grape species Vitis labrusca (also called fox grape). The skin is typically dark blue or purple, and is sometimes covered with a lighter-colored “bloom” that can be rubbed off. Concord grapes have large seeds and are highly aromatic. They are a slip-skin grape variety, meaning that the skin is easily separated from the fruit.
Concord grapes produce fruit in the first year they are planted and can grow as much as 20 feet per year. If they are not pruned heavily during the dormant season, the vine will be forced to support long sections of non-fruiting wood with shorter sections of fruiting wood at the end and productivity will be limited.
Concord grapes need a special climate to grow – specifically, chilly areas near large bodies of water like the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes Region of New York, Southwestern Michigan and the Yakima Valley in Washington. In the United States over 400,000 tons of Concord Grapes are harvested each year in September and October.
Though American Indians had long enjoyed Concord grapes, they were not considered particularly enjoyable by early colonists. It wasn’t until the 1850s, when American grapes began to be hybridized with European varieties, that they became more widely grown and consumed.
Legend has it that amateur farmer Ephraim Wales Bull planted 22,000 wild grape seedlings in 1849. After six years he finally selected a single vine he thought worth keeping and named it after his hometown. In 1853, Bull’s grape won first place at the Boston Horticultural Society Exhibition and was then introduced to the market in 1854. It quickly spread throughout the country and became one of the most popular variety of grapes due to its hardiness and ability to withstand cold climates. The grape is now widely grown in Washington, New York, and what has become known as the “Concord Grape Belt” of eastern Lake Erie. Bull’s original vine still exists today in Concord and its descendants have produced the most commonly-used grape in American commercial production.
Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch developed the first Concord grape juice in 1869. Fermentation was inhibited through the process of pasteurization. Welch originally introduced the grape juice to his church, to be used for communion.
Concord grapes are still used to make Kosher wine and Sacramental wine. The oldest sacramental winery in America, O-Neh-Da Vineyard, still produces a concord wine for the altar. However, they are primarily used for jelly and grape juice, soft drinks and candy.
Concord grape juice has been shown to provide many of the same heart-health benefits of red wine, without alcohol consumption. They contain plant nutrients called polyphenols which act as antioxidants. Concord grapes also support the immune system and cognitive health and are an excellent source of manganese, vitamin K, and thiamin (vitamin B1).
American Indian Health and Diet Project
Concord Grape Association