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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