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The Grape

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Some grapes.
Men are like a fine wine. They all start out like grapes, and it's our job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you'd want to have dinner with.
- Female Author Unknown

Grapes are the fruit of a vine belonging to the phylum Magniliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rhamnales, family Vitaceae and genus Vitis. In appearance grapes are small and round and possess a soft centre encased in a shiny coat. There are three main types of grape: table grapes, which are used in recipes and can be eaten in their original form; wine grapes, that are used in viniculture1; and raisin grapes, which are dried to produce raisins. There are also three main species: European grapes Vitis vinifera, which include the Thompson, Emperor and Champagne/Black Corinth; North American grapes Vitis labrusca and Vitis Rotundifolia, such as the Concord, Delaware and Niagara; and French hybrids, that were developed after a number of European grape varieties were wiped out in the 19th Century. All these grapes can be seen growing on vines in clusters of six to 300 and come in two different colours, white and red.


The French word for 'grape' is 'raisin'. A bunch of grapes is called 'un grape des raisins'. The English grasped the wrong word, 'grape', meaning 'bunch', and applied it to the fruit. They later took the word 'raisin' and used it to mean 'dried grape'. The French, more consistently, call these 'raisins sec', 'dried grapes'.


The vine bears three kinds of grapes: the first of pleasure, the second of intoxication, the third of disgust.
Anacharsis, Scythian philosopher (6th Century BC)

Those that fit into the white grape category are:

  • Autumn seedless - white table grape cultivated in Spain.
  • AligotĂ© - a white wine grape cultivated in Burgundy.
  • Chardonnay - a classic white wine grape cultivated around the world.
  • Colombard - cultivated in France helps; create fruity white wines.
  • Himrod - white seedless grape cultivated in America.
  • Malvasia - originates from Greece; now grown as a white wine grape in Italy.
  • Orlando seedless - white table grape cultivated in America.
  • Muller-Thurgau - white wine grape grown in North America.
  • Pinot Blanc - white wine grape grown in America.
  • Romulus - white table grape grown in America.
  • Thompson Seedless - light seedless grapes; makes raisins.

Those that fit into the red grape category include:

  • Black Corinth2 - red grape that carries a wine-like taste but in fact makes raisins.
  • Brunello - makes deep flavoured wines.
  • Cabernet Franc - red wine grape cultivated in France.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon - fruity late season red grape makes fruity wine.
  • Mourvèdre - cultivated in France and made into wine.
  • Merlot - red grape used in distinctive red wines.
  • Muscats - cultivated in France, Spain and Portugal; this grape makes wine and raisins.
  • Pinot Noir - red grapes that create the well-known French Burgundy wines.
  • Pinotage - South African variety used in viniculture.
  • Sultans - Australian red grape; makes raisins and Shiraz.
  • Zinfandel - these red grapes make fruity red wine.
The grape gains its purple tinge by looking at another grape.
[Latin: Uvaque conspecta livorem ducit ab uva] - Juvenal (Decimus Junius Juvenal), Satires (II, 81)


God in His goodness sent the grapes, to cheer both great and small; little fools will drink too much, and great fools not at all.
- Anonymous

The grape appears in many biblical stories and is referred to as the 'fruit of the vine'. It is used in communion to signify Christ's blood and the sacrifice he made for those on earth. Grapes have also come to signify life, immortality, revelry and joy, while the grapevine signifies peace and abundance in religion.

There are over sixty different species of grape in the world today and each have developed from various parts of the world. Vine stocks have been found growing in China that date back to before the Ice Age and murals depicting grapes have been found painted on the sides of ancient Egyptian tombs, which were probably descendants of those that grew in the region between the Black and Caspian Sea.

But it wasn't just the Egyptians that became knowledgeable about viticulture; so did the ancient Greeks and Romans who even celebrated the god of wine (the Greeks celebrating Dionysus and Romans worshipping Bacchus3). The festival 'Oschophoria' (which means 'carrying of the vine-branches') took place in autumn when the grapes were being harvested to create wine and honoured the gods Dionysus and Athena, and the mythological characters Theseus and Ariadne.

European travellers brought grapes to America in the early 17th Century during a Spanish mission into New Mexico. From there, viticulture soon spread to California where the absence of grape-preying insects best supported their production.

France has long been famous for its grapes and wines. But during the 19th Century grapes were nearly wiped out completely due to an insect that was unintentionally brought from North America. Fortunately, grapes were saved from extinction by crossbreeding some of the vinifera variety with the American labrusca variety.

During the Second World War many foods were rationed, but some people still managed to eat grapes.

On the way back to the Company base in Agria, as we were accustomed to do from time to time, we have stopped the truck for a few minutes in a couple of places and from the open fields gathered a modest amount of produce like potatoes, onions, tomatoes, capsicums and also some grapes here and there from an inviting-looking vineyard.
Second World War Story by Milan Lorman
We waited a few moments in case they returned and when we were satisfied that it was reasonably clear we got out from beneath the vehicle and with a sigh of relief dusted ourselves down and strolled off towards some grape vines that were growing just off the beach area.Second World War Story by Darling

Today grapes can be found growing in many places such as the countries around the Mediterranean; California and Mexico; Australia; South Africa; and Chile and Argentina.

Growing Grapes

We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.
- Benjamin Franklin

Imagine grape growing in France, the golden sunlight glistening over the vineyards, roses in full bloom standing tall at the end of each row of vines, acting as early warning systems of maladies that would cause problems to the grapes, while the grapes themselves are building themselves up for harvest time.

Planting Grapes (soils and climates)

In the Northern Hemisphere grapes should be planted on the south sides of buildings, on southern slopes or the south side of windbreaks. By growing them on the south side the gardener will give their grapes the best chance to ripen, absorb the warm glowing sunlight and feel high temperatures.

All around the eastern Mediterranean, grape vines are grown on a pergola in people's gardens, providing shade in the summer for an outdoor seating area.

Grape vines should be planted eight inches deep in well-drained soil and wide enough so that the roots do not bend, during spring. This will enable the plant to take on early growth and discourage standing water. The root systems of these plants should be well-developed and when they are planted they should be six to eight feet apart from each other. Before planting the vine remove all canes except the strongest and trim off any long roots. After planting the vine in soil cover it well with soil and shorten the remaining cane to two strong buds which will develop into canes. If these do not grow well during the first year it is probably best to cut them back and start again.

Some grapes contain seeds while others don't. This is because the seeds in seedless (parthenocarpy) grapes have stopped growing (stenspermocarpy). The seeds can stop growing for two reasons. Firstly, natural intervention can occur, such as a genetic error within the fruit. Secondly, humans can pollinate the plant with pollen that isn't entirely compatible and the plant won't grow grapes with seeds. But how is it possible to grow more seedless grapes if there are no seeds? The answer is simply to take cuttings and plant them.

Pruning and training

The stronger of the two buds should be trained over time to climb up a stake five to six feet tall, while the suckers should be removed and the weakest cane removed in March a year later. Nitrogen should also be given to the plant two weeks in from the initial planting then followed up monthly. Fertilisers too may be used but not those which contain herbicides. Four to six inches of mulch can also be used which will conserve the soil's moisture and control weeds.

There are a number of different types of pruning, therefore decide early on how your grape vine will be trained. The simplest, for varieties which do not need over winter protection, is known as the four-arm Kniffen system. But whichever method is used pruning is nothing to be afraid of. Ninety per cent of last year's growth is usually cut. Grape vines are forgiving and if you make a mistake you can always redress it next year. Grapes are best pruned in early spring.


When it comes to watering grapes, it is important to remember that new vines need regular watering but as the root system develops there is less need for watering them frequently. Slowly over time the grape vine will be watered less and less. Beyond the first three to four years the vines only need watering every two weeks for a three- to five-hour-period. At the time of watering the water should be absorbed to two feet under ground; this can be checked with a shovel. Drip irrigation can be an effective way of watering grape vines and mulches (as long as they don't touch the plant) can help lessen moisture demand.


When it comes to pollination the wind contributes to viticulture as do bees, hornets and wasps, which pollinate the plant.


Grapes encounter various pests and diseases, such as:

  • Aphids - small insects that feed off plants.
  • Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter - a pest that spreads diseases such as Pierce's Disease causing the plant to die.
  • Curculio - beetles otherwise known as weevils.
  • Flea Beetle - a small beetle that can jump long distances and creates a larva that poses problems to plants.
  • Leafhopper - an insect that injects plants with toxins as it feeds off it.
  • Grape Phylloxera - insects related to aphids such as vitifoliae4.
  • Rootworm - the larvae of certain leafbeetles
  • Webworm - a moth caterpillar that weaves a web around its desired plant.
  • Erysiphe necator or Uncinula necator - creates a powdery white mildew on grapes.

These horticultural horrors however, have not been the only pests to be found on grapes over time. The poisonous black widow spider has also been found lurking on red grapes.

Selecting and Storing

When it comes to selecting grapes for storing make sure that the grapes picked are free from wrinkles and are plump, intact and firmly attached to their stem. The colour of the grape will have changed too. For example, green grapes should have a slight yellowish hue, while red, purple and blue-black grapes should be rich in colour. Of course, the best way to tell if the grape is ready for picking is by knowing what cultivated variety (cultivar) of grape vine has been planted and when its particular time for harvesting is.

Storing them below room temperature stops the grapes fermenting. For best results wrap unwashed grapes in a paper towel and place them in a plastic bag. This will allow them to keep fresh for several days. Grapes that have been imported into the UK from abroad usually come in by boat in Bristol Docks and are stored in temperature controlled storage rooms.


We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.
- Marcus Aurelius

Before talking about the benefits of eating grapes, it should be pointed out that trying to imitate record-breaker Ashrita Furman by catching grapes with your mouth and giving small grapes to small children and babies is not a good idea, due to the risk of choking on a grape and dying.

Despite the fact that grapes are high in sugar content, they benefit the human body by providing it with protein, carbohydrates, dietary fibre and vitamins A, C and B6. Minerals like potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and selenium and traces of copper, manganese, and zinc are also found in grapes. Toothpaste has been made from burned grape branches and the juice of a grape relative called the compressa is used in Asia for healing.


Grape Leaves

Grape leaves are a common delicacy eaten by those living in eastern Mediterranean, Greece and Israel. They are wrapped around a vegetarian filling of rice, herbs and chickpeas or lamb mince and rice.

Grape Juice

Grape juice can be turned into a type of molasses used in marinades and dressings. Grape juice provides the basis for the anis-flavoured arak in the eastern Med Arab nations (called raki in Turkey or ouzo in Greece).

Raisins etc

Raisins are dried grapes except in North America, where currants are dried zante grapes and sultanas are dried grapes from North America.

French wine growers fear that this year's vintage may be entirely spoiled due to the grape treaders' sit-in.
- Ronnie Corbett

Grapes are excellent for making jellies, jams, juice and wine and can even be eaten as a frozen snack.


We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.
- EB White
1Viniculture refers specifically to the art of growing grapes for wine, whereas viticulture just refers to the art of growing grapes.2Currant derives from the word 'Corinth'.3There is an almost unique and still complete temple to Bacchus at Baalbek, in the Bekaa valley of Lebanon.4Phylloxera all but wiped out European vines in the late 19th Century and the majority of today's European vineyards are actually developed from American stock (as the American varieties have a partial immunity to Phylloxera).

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