Education and Experimentation via Mississippi Bunch Grapes

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.

Mark and Travis from Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company helping harvest a few vines of Miss blanc

Mark and Travis from Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company helping harvest a few vines of Miss blanc.

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.

Harvested Miss blanc fruit ready for data measurements

Harvested Miss blanc fruit ready for data measurements.

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.

Dr. Shaw (left) and Mark Henderson (right) pressing Miss blanc grapes for juice

Dr. Shaw (left) and Mark Henderson (right) pressing Miss blanc grapes for juice.

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.

2015 Mississippi Grape and Muscadine Short Courses Announced

Thanks to a grant from the Specialty Crops Block grant program and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, MSU Extension Service will be hosting two short courses for grape and muscadine growers.  One will be held in Verona and the other in Hattiesburg.  Each short course will meet on two dates, one in February and one in July, so that attendees can see and experience the vineyard at different growing seasons.  Because the grant covers all the expenses, the short course will be free to attend; however, pre-registration is mandatory.  Below the schedules and registration form can be downloaded.

Grape and Muscadine Short Course: Hattiesburg

Grape and Muscadine Short Course: Verona

This course is intended for COMMERCIAL growers (and those interested in becoming commercial) only — those who currently grow or wish to grow for markets (farmer’s markets, local retail, wineries, etc.).  Please see the links above for further details and feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.  We look forward to seeing you at these great events!

More info here:

Some Notes on Bunch Grapes in South Mississippi

I have a vineyard in Poplarville, MS with several different varieties of bunch grapes.  Some will make it, some won’t, but it is interesting to look nonetheless.  Below are some notes I made today on their growth and development.  These are all in their second leaf and first fruiting year.

Victoria Red — some Pierce’s Disease symptoms (PD), not extremely productive, clusters variable in size and shape, some vines no crop while others better, bird depredation and bees a problem, fruit is crisp and sweet with good flavor (close to neutral), some seeds, vines have good vigor, non-slipskin

Cimarron — very few clusters, small cluster size, slipskin with “Welchy” flavor, some PD symptoms, moderate vine vigor

Sunset — no crop, possible PD symptoms, low vigor

Cynthiana — moderate vigor, no fruit

Rubaiyat — possible PD symptoms, vine vigor varies among vines, some vines no fruit and some lots, slipskin, red flesh, flavor mild to neutral, good sized clusters when present, some vines appear stressed, some uneven ripening, some nutritional deficiency symptoms, bird and bee depredation

Lake Emerald — good fruit set, not ripening yet, evidence of nutritional deficiency, clusters loose, vine vigor good to moderate

Daytona — no fruit, vine vigor low to moderate

Champanel — few clusters, slipskin, mild fruit flavor, cluster size medium to large, “slimy” pulp, some nutritional deficiency symptoms, possible PD symptoms, vine vigor moderate, clusters loose

V12-375(?) — little fruit, vigorous growth, not ripening yet, clean foliage except a couple older leaves with possible PD or nutrient deficiency symptoms

Conquistador — no fruit, vine vigorous, shows nutrient deficiency, some leaves drying out and dying

Himrod — poor growth, no fruit

FAMU 99 — moderate vine vigor, no fruit

MidSouth — low to moderate vine vigor, little fruit, small clusters, intriguing “raspberry” flavor, slipskin

The varieties below have been harvested as of July 24.  Although they were not at optimal soluble solid levels, bird depredation dictated an early harvest so that my study would not be ruined.

Villard blanc — long, loose clusters, brix around 16, some leave damage from Pristine, nonslipskin, obvious “wine”-like grape flavor, vines moderate vigor

Blanc du bois — vines vigorous, large to medium cluster size, brix around 17-18, anthracnose a problem, slipskin

Miss blanc — less vigorous than VB and BdB, less fruit too, brix around 15

If you have questions or comments on these I would love to hear them.

2013 ASEV-ES Red Wine Symposium

On July 18, 2013 at the American Society for Enology and Viticulture, Eastern Section Conference in Winston-Salem, NC I attended the Symposium on Advances in Red Wine Production: Berry to Bottle.  The speakers included Diego Barison (NovaVine), Tony Wolf (Virginia Tech), Michael Jones (Scott Laboratories),  James Kennedy (Fresno State), James Harbertson (Washington State), Sara Spayd (NC State), and a panel of growers from NC, TN, and VA.  The Symposium started off with a welcome from ASEV-ES Chair Fritz Westover.


Fritz Westover gets the Symposium started

Fritz Westover gets the Symposium started

The first speaker, Diego Barison gave a talk entitled “Latest News on Red Wine Varieties for Warm Climates”.    He spoke on the need for clonal selection to preserve genetic variability, preserve infrequent characteristics, to make more complex wines, and to exhibit weaker genotype by environment interactions.  One of his jobs is to look for characteristics that may be suitable for clonal establishment, such as loose clusters that minimize susceptibility to disease.  Any new clones are grafted to indicator rootstocks to determine if viruses are present.  Eventually microvinification and sensory analyses are carried out to see if the clone is suitable as a wine.  Some of the goals he mentioned for his program are grape acidity, ripening period, color, crop load, vigor, clean plant material, adaptability to blending, adaptability to environment, and its cultivated history.  He mentioned some new clones derived from Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Teroldego, Aglianico, Negro amaro, and Calabrese that may be available in the future to growers.

Diego Barison from NovaVine

Diego Barison from NovaVine

The second speaker was Dr. Tony Wolf and he covered “Canopy Management Advances for Red Wine Grapes”.    Canopy management is a set of practices which can be used to alter the number, arrangement and development of shoots in space and time and thereby affect the canopy and cluster microclimate.  It is often aimed at improving the architecture of canopies under supra-optimal growth conditions.  Common goals of canopy management are: improved fruitfulness, improved grape composition, improved wine quality potential, decreased disease incidence/severity, and to facilitate mechanization.  Canopy modification can have direct and indirect effects.  A direct effect is one that alters arrangement of leaves and clusters such as training system, pruning, thinning, positioning, and shoot/leaf/cluster removal.  Indirect effects are those the affect the canopy density by controlling things like shoot vigor, lateral shoot development, and duration of shoot growth.  This is accomplished through management of irrigation, choice of rootstock, site selection, cover cropping, and root containment/root pruning.  An indicator of an out-of-balance vine is greater than 1.0 kg of prunings per meter of canopy (about 0.4 lb/ft).  Desired canopy goals are 1 square meter of leaf area per kg of fruit and 12-15 shoots per meter.  Other desirable attributes of a balanced canopy post-bloom to veraison in red varieties are: about 20% gaps in the canopy, 1 to 1.5 leaf layer, 3-4 shoots per foot (VSP system), 12-20 fully unfolded leaves, 5% or less active shoot tips by veraison, 50% or more cluster exposure to light on East side (less on West; maybe more for high acid varieties), few lateral leaves in the fruiting zone (less than 10 on basal 7 nodes of each shoot by veraison), and 0.3-0.6 kg fruit/meter of canopy.

Tony Wolf discussing canopy management in red wine varieties

Tony Wolf discussing canopy management in red wine varieties

Since these were the two “viticulture” talks of the symposium they were primarily the ones I took notes on; however, I do have a few more.

The third speaker was Michael Jones from Scott Labs.  He spoke on “Stuck and Sluggish Fermentations”.  The primary causes of stuck and sluggish fermentations are: nutrient deficiency, competition from wild yeast/bacteria, lack of survival factors (long-chain fatty acids, sterols), ethanol, temperature, osmotic shock, toxins, inadequate yeast populations, highly clarified must, and pesticide residues.

The next speaker was Jim Kennedy from Fresno State on the topic of “Phenol 101”.  I recall this talk was heavy in biochemistry.  He described that anthocyanins are largely found in the skin along with flavonols.  Hydroxycinnamic acid is in the pulp.  The tannins in the grape are made prior to veraison.  The tannins mature along with anthocyanins post veraison.  Moderate stress tends to increase phenolic quantity and quality, including high sun exposure, low nitrogen, low soil moisture, moderate canopy size, and moderate crop load.  Fruit exposure to the sun is positively related to wine quality.

The next two speakers, Jim Harbertson (Washington State) and Sara Spayd (NC State) also spoke about phenols (“Improving Red Wine Color and Phenols” and “Red Wine Phenols in North Carolina”, respectively).  However, I did not take any notes.  There was also a panel discussion on “Issues in Red Wine Production in the Southeast”.

My colleague Mark Chien from Penn State summarized some of these and other talks from the conference.  You can find that here:  See the entire program here:

You might also find Mark’s discussion with Steve Menke (Colorado State) and Sara Spayd of interest on growing fine wines in the East (

Generally most of the talks focused on Vitis vinifera varieties, as that is where most of the research has been done.  However, there was good info on interspecific hybrids and a little on muscadines as well.  I would encourage anyone with an interest to join ASEV-ES.  It is relatively inexpensive and the information that comes out of the meeting is great.  Plans are in the works to update the webpage, create a newsletter, and get involved with social media (primarily facebook).  If you are interested in more information and how to join go here:


The VitisGen Project

Vitisgen ( is a large, multi-disciplinary, collaborative project focused on decreasing the time, effort and cost involved in developing the next generation of grapes. Vitisgen incorporates cutting edge genomics technology and socioeconomic research into the traditional grape breeding and evaluation process, which will speed up the ability to identify important genes related consumer-valued traits like disease resistance, low temperature tolerance and enhanced fruit quality. Identifying these genes will help grape breeding programs from around the world to more rapidly develop new grape varieties that will appeal to a wide range of consumers, while also addressing grower and producer needs. Additionally, the scientific resources developed during the project will allow scientists and breeders to address other issues and needs that have regional significance, like salinity or drought tolerance.

Vitisgen represents a new model of scientific collaboration. The integration of the needs of multiple interests—breeders, growers, fruit processors and consumers—into a single outcome will result in novel grape varieties that are beneficial to producers, processors and consumers.

I am part of this project on the extension and outreach team (  Read more about VitisGen extension here (  This project has tremendous potential to revolutionize grapevine breeding and help reduce the time needed to get new cultivars out to growers.  I encourage  you to take a look and feel free to write me with any feedback you have.

My Deep South Vineyard

I live in the land of Pierce’s Disease (PD) and heavy fungal disease pressure.  Muscadines are king here for good reason — they grow and produce fruit.  Bunch grapes are a different story.  Many varieties are susceptible to PD and most are also susceptible to the multitude of fungal diseases present along the Gulf Coast, including Black Rot, Anthracnose, Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew, Phomopsis, etc.  Some work was done years ago on bunch grapes in Mississippi, even some in the southern part of the state.  Unfortunately for me (or fortunately depending on your perspective), I work on a station that is 3.5 hours from the main campus (and the library).  So, I don’t have ready access to all of those old research publications.  But I know there are some varieties they did not test and that is why I have started a vineyard in Poplarville (there is also a replicated vineyard at Beaumont too).   I have put in some of the usual suspects in the vineyard, including ‘Blanc du bois’ and ‘Villard blanc’.  These are interspecific hybrid grapes that have some resistance or tolerance to PD.  What else am I putting in, you ask?  ‘Victoria’s Red’ is one (thanks to Jim Kamas at TAMU).  A table grape originally from the University of Arkansas breeding program that was given second life in Texas.  I also have ‘Miss Blanc’, ‘MidSouth’, FAMU 99,’ Himrod’, ‘Conquistador’, ‘Champanel’, ‘Daytona’, and ‘Lake Emerald’ (many thanks to Wayne Adams).  Another, ‘Rubaiyat’, may make it from the greenhouse to the field soon as well (thanks to Becky Carroll at OK State).  The main part of the vineyard is ‘Blanc du bois’, ‘Villard blanc’, and ‘Miss Blanc’.  These vines will be used in a study (or studies).  The rest are for pure observation.  As the vineyard progresses I will update things here.  As you can see below, things are in the beginning stages, but the vines will grow rapidly in this environment.  Check out the photos below.

The new vineyard in Poplarville

The new vineyard in Poplarville

Victoria's Red with an inflorescence already (which will be removed)

‘Victoria’s Red’ with an inflorescence already (which will be removed)

A little freeze damage, but coming back strong

A little freeze damage, but coming back strong



Budgeting for Fruit Growing Enterprises

Establishing a fruit crop business can be cash intensive, therefore it is best to have as much information up front as possible.  The Mississippi State University Agricultural Economics Department has some budget publications that help get you started.  Below is the list:








Wine Grapes:

You can also generate your own budget by using the MS Budget Generator that can be found on this page:

Knowing upfront costs and expenditures is very important in establishing a commercial business — if you don’t know what you spend how will you know when you make money?  These tools help take some of the guess work out of it.