Book Review

Muscadine Grapes

Edited by Fouad M. Basiouny and David G. Himelrick

ASHS Press, 113 South West Street, #200, Alexandria, VA 22314-2851. Voice: 703-836-4606, fax: 703-836-2024, e-mail: [email protected] Copyright 2001. 378 pages. ISBN 0-9797546-0-4.
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)

Reviewed by Lon J. Rombaugh (9/2002)

The first time you try a muscadine grape (Muscadinia rotundifolia), you would never mistake it for any other sort of grape, because the muscadine is so different from other grapes. Native to the southeastern United States, the fruits of many varieties of muscadine have skin so tough people who eat them regularly refer to "eating the insides and spitting out the hulls."

Unlike bunch grapes, ripe muscadine fruits drop individually from the cluster when ripe; the common harvest method is spreading a sheet underneath the vine and shaking the stalk. Musky and very aromatic, muscadines are definitely an acquired taste, though once you get past the odd character of the fruit, it's very easy to learn to like it. Muscadines make some of the finest juice I've ever tried.

In regions of the U.S. where summer heat and humidity and extreme disease pressure make it difficult to grow bunch grapes, disease-resistant muscadines offer a viable alternative.

As interesting as muscadines are, only the people who reside in USDA zones 7 or warmer--and where the summers are long and hot--can hope to grow this fruit. Here in Oregon, for example, the climate is zone 8, but we lack sufficient summer heat to ripen muscadines outside a greenhouse.

If you qualify in terms of climate to grow muscadines and want to try it, this book is the most definitive of its kind I've seen. Even if you can't grow them, you'll learn something from Muscadine Grapes.

Compiled from a century of muscadine research, the book contains the results of a great deal of university and some private work. It is very thorough in that respect--I even found reference to my own obscure thesis. I was also surprised at how far work has proceeded in some areas, such as development of thin-skinned, firm-fleshed muscadines. It appears that before long it might be possible to have muscadines with fruit like that of Vinifera grapes.

The winemaking qualities of muscadines will be of special interest to anyone planning to use them for that purpose. There is a considerable difference among varieties, with some lacking sufficient sugar, while others have as much sugar as Vinifera wine grapes. Muscadines generally lack sufficient pigments to make acceptable red wines, but some research indicates a possibility of breeding cultivars that could have color as good as many bunch grapes.

Although it helps to know something about grapes when using this book, parts such as the variety chapter, with well-laid-out charts of varieties, can be used by everyone.

There is so much information in this book that I would call it a solid addition to the reference library of anyone interested in grapes. Some material will be of more interest to researchers, but beginners and commercial growers alike will find useful material in it.


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