And when I say “grape harvest” I mean bunch grapes, not muscadines (which will come later in the season). This year the vines in my vineyard were in the 3rd leaf. I harvested a little fruit last year, but this year was the first “big” harvest. Since most of the harvested vines were part of a study, I did various measurements on them (total weight, cluster and berry weights, brix, TA, pH), but had a conundrum — what do I do with the fruit? The majority of the harvested grapes was from three cultivars: Blanc du bois, Miss blanc, and Villard blanc. I also harvested a little from MidSouth. In the end I gave it all away, some of it to folks who helped harvest, but also some to help a business do some experimentation of their own.
Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company is located in Kiln, Mississippi. Just after I moved here in 2011, my wife and I went for a visit to the brewery where we met Mark Henderson, co-owner. We asked questions about the brewery biz and he asked what we did for a living. After telling him I worked with grapes, he became very interested and said he wanted to source some local grape juice for a project. I told him, “good luck” because there was none to be had. Later, I connected with a local grower, Dr. Wayne Adams, who had some fruit but not enough to supply Mark. I planted the grape vines as a response to his request. After moving here, I thought my days with grapes was probably over, but what I have found out is there there is a strong interest in Mississippi just like everywhere else. In 2014 I wrote a Specialty Crops Block Grant funded through the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and USDA-NIFA that focused on grape education. This vineyard helps to bolster that education component.
Fast forward to 2015 and I have vines producing fruit. I again contacted Mark and asked if he wanted the juice to do some experimenting on. He said yes. Unfortunately the Blanc du bois was not in good shape. It had a good bit of rot caused by early season anthracnose then bunch rots. The very rainy month of May did it no favors. However, Miss blanc and Villard blanc were in relatively good shape.
After getting the fruit in from the field, we took some data measurements then pressed it for juice. Mark and Travis from Lazy Magnolia came up to help with that process along with my collaborator Dr. Donna Shaw from USDA-ARS in Poplarville.
It is a very messy job, but being able to taste the fresh juice is rewarding. Of course it happened to be on one of the hottest days of the year, but then again it is July in South Mississippi! We were able to get about 20 gallons of juice from 18 Miss blanc vines. A couple of days later we were able to get 10 gallons of juice from 17 Villard blanc vines. I also gave Mark about 2 gallons of MidSouth juice (which is acidic but has an intriguing “raspberry” flavor). So he has between 25-30 gallons to try something (wine, mead, beer, or something else entirely). This project is a beginning to see how Mississippi-grown grapes can be used for marketable products.
If you, or someone you know, is interested in growing bunch grapes in Mississippi please contact me. Although it is not easy to do, it can be done with the right cultivars and management practices. Developing markets is another important step in the process, and Lazy Magnolia is exploring whether or not grapes can make a marketable product for their business model with the help of Mississippi State University Extension Service.