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European Grapes At The New York Experiment Station

In the spring of 1911, the Station obtained cuttings of 101 varieties
of European grapes from the United States Department of Agriculture
and the University of California. The cuttings obtained were grafted
on the roots of a heterogeneous collection of seedlings, five years
set, representing a half dozen species of Vitis. These stocks had
little to recommend them except that all were vigorous, well
established and all were more immune to phylloxera than the Old World
varieties. From four to six grafts of each of the hundred varieties
were made and a stand of 380 vines resulted, the percentage of loss
being exceedingly small. The success in grafting was probably due to
the method used, the value of which had been proved in previous work
on the Station grounds. The method of grafting and details of care

Details of care.

In grafting, the earth was removed from the plants to a depth of two
or three inches. The vines were sawed squarely off below the surface
of the ground. The stock was then split for a cleft graft. Two cions,
made as described on page 46, were inserted in each cleft and tied in
place with waxed string. Wax was not used as it does not stick in
grafting grapes, because of the bleeding of the stock. After setting
the cion, the earth was replaced and enough more of it used to cover
stock and cion to prevent evaporation. This method of grafting is
available to those who have old vineyards. It is so simple that the
veriest tyro can thus graft grapes. Were young plants or cuttings used
as stocks, some method of bench grafting would, of course, be resorted

The cultivation and spraying were precisely that given native grapes.
There has been no coddling of vines. The fungous diseases which helped
to destroy the vineyards and vexed the souls of the old experimenters
were kept in check by two sprayings with bordeaux mixture; the first
application was made just after the fruit set, the second when the
grapes were two-thirds grown. Some years a third spraying with a
tobacco concoction was used to keep thrips in check. Phylloxera was
present in the vineyard but none of the varieties seemed to suffer
from this pest. The stocks used were not those best suited either to
the vines grafted on them or to resist phylloxera. Unquestionably some
of the standard sorts used in France and California from Vitis
rupestris or Vitis vulpina, or hybrids of these species, would give
better results. From theoretical consideration, it would seem that the
Vitis vulpina stocks should be best suited to the needs of eastern

It was thought by the old experimenters that European grapes failed in
New York because of unfavorable climatic conditions. It was said that
the winters were too cold and the summers too hot and dry for this
grape. During the years the Station vineyard of Viniferas has been in
existence, there have been stresses of all kinds of weather to which
the variable climate of New York is subject. Two winters have been
exceedingly cold, killing peach and pear trees; one summer gave the
hottest weather and hottest day in twenty-five years; the vines have
withstood two severe summer droughts and three cold, wet summers.
These test seasons have proved that European grapes will stand the
climate of New York as well as the native varieties except in the
matter of cold; they must have winter protection.

To growers of American grapes, the extra work of winter protection
seems to be an insuperable obstacle. The experience of several seasons
in New York shows that winter protection is a cheap and simple matter.
Two methods have been used; vines have been covered with earth and
others have been wrapped with straw. The earth covering is cheaper and
more efficient. The vines are pruned and placed full length on the
ground and covered with a few inches of earth. The cost of winter
protection will run from two to three cents a vine. Since European
vines are much more productive than those of American grapes, the
added cost of winter protection is more than offset by the greater
yield of grapes. Trellising, also, is simpler and less expensive for
the European grapes, helping further to offset the cost of winter


It is apparent at once that European grapes must have special
treatment in pruning if they are to be laid on the ground annually.
Several modifications of European and California practices can be
employed in the East to bring the plants in condition for winter
laying-down. All methods of pruning must have this in common; new wood
must be brought up from the base of the plant every year to permit
bending the plant. This can be done by leaving a replacing spur at
the base of the trunk. If two-eye cions are used when the plants are
grafted and both buds grow, the shoot from the upper can be used to
form the main trunk, while that from the lower bud will supply the
replacing spur. Each year all but one of the canes coming from this
spur are removed and the remaining one is cut back to one or two buds
until the main trunk begins to be too stiff to bend down readily, then
one cane from the spur is left for a new trunk and another is pruned
for a new renewal spur.

The main trunk is carried up only to the lower wire of the trellis. At
the winter pruning, two one-year canes are selected to be tied along
this wire, one on each side, and the two renewal spurs chosen for
tying up and new renewal spurs left. For the best production,
different varieties require different lengths of fruit canes, but the
work at Geneva has not progressed far enough so that recommendations
can be made for particular varieties. It has been found best, however,
to prune weak vines heavily and vigorous ones lightly. Under normal
conditions, from four to eight buds are left on each cane, depending
on the vigor of the vine. With some of the older seedlings used for
stocks in 1911 which were so large that two cions were used, and in
many of those where the roots seemed to have sufficient vigor to
support the larger top, two trunks were formed, one from each graft.
By spreading these into a V and making the inner arms shorter, very
satisfactory results were secured.

The type of growth in Vinifera is different from that of native
grapes. The young shoots which spring from the one-year canes, instead
of trailing to the ground or running out along the trellis wires, grow
erect. Advantage must be taken of this in the pruning system adopted
in the East. The canes and the renewal spurs as described above are
tied along the lower wire; then the young shoots which come from these
grow upward to the second wire. When the shoots are four to six
inches above this wire, they are pinched off just above the wire and
any which have not already fastened themselves are tied to prevent the
wind breaking them off. At the same time, if any of the axial buds on
the shoots have begun to form secondary shoots, they are rubbed off,
beginning with the node next above the upper cluster and going down to
the old cane. This gives the cluster more room and better light. Soon
after the first heading-back, the upper buds of the young shoot start
lateral growth. The secondary branches usually grow upright and when
they are several inches high they are topped with a sickle. This
heading-back results in stockier and more mature canes for the
following year, and if properly done adds to the fruitfulness of the
vine and the fruit matures better.

General considerations.

The grower of European grapes grafted on American vines may be
prepared to be surprised at the growth the vines make. At the end of
the first season, the grafts attain the magnitude of full-sized vines;
the second season they begin to fruit more or less abundantly, and the
third year they produce approximately the same number of bunches as a
Concord or Niagara vine; and, as the bunches of most varieties are
larger than those of the American grapes, the yield, therefore, is
greater. The European varieties, also, may be set more closely than
the American sorts, since they are seldom such rampant growers.

It is too early to reason from this short experiment that we are to
grow varieties of European grapes commonly in the East, but the
behavior of the vines under discussion seems to indicate that we may
do so. At the New York Station, the European varieties are as vigorous
and thrifty as American vines and quite as easily managed. Why may we
not grow these grapes if we protect them from phylloxera, fungi and
cold? In Europe, there are varieties of grapes for nearly every soil
and condition in the southern half of the continent. In eastern
Europe and western Asia, the vines must be protected just as they must
be protected here. It seems almost certain that from the many sorts
selected to meet the various conditions of Europe, we shall be able to
find kinds to meet the diverse soils and climates of this continent.
And here we have one of the chief reasons for wishing to grow these
grapes that American grape-growing may not be so localized as at
present. Probably we shall find that European grapes can be grown
under a greater diversity of conditions than native varieties.

The culture of European grapes in the East gives this region
essentially a new fruit. If any considerable degree of success attends
their culture, wine-making in eastern America will be revolutionized,
for the European grapes are far superior to the native sorts for this
purpose. Varieties of these grapes have a higher sugar- and
solid-content than do those of the American species and for this
reason, as a rule, keep longer. We may thus expect that through these
grapes the season for this fruit will be extended. The European
varieties are better flavored, possessing a more delicate and a richer
vinous flavor, a more agreeable aroma, and are lacking in the acidity
and the obnoxious foxy taste of many American grapes. Many consumers
of fruit will like them better and the demand for grapes thus will be

The advent of the European grape in the vineyards of eastern America
ought to greatly increase the production of hybrids between this
species and the American species of grapes. As we have seen, there are
many such hybrids, but curiously enough scarcely more than a half
dozen varieties of European grapes have been used in crossing. Most of
these have been greenhouse grapes and not those that could be expected
to give best results for vineyard culture. As we come to know the
varieties best adapted to American conditions, we ought to be able to
select European parents to better advantage than we have done in the
past and by using them produce better hybrid sorts.


From the eighty-five varieties of European grapes now fruiting on the
grounds of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, the following
are named as worth trying in the East for table grapes: Actoni,
Bakator, Chasselas Golden, Chasselas Rose, Feher Szagos, Gray Pinot,
Lignan Blanc, Malvasia, Muscat Hamburg, Palomino and Rosaki. These and
other European grapes are described in Chapter XVIII; Chasselas Golden
and Malvasia are illustrated in Plate V.

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