Grapes in Texas: Early History
Grapes are one of our earliest cultivated crops. Emigrants from
Europe and Asia have carried them to all parts of the world. North
America has a wide range of species, most of which occur somewhere
in Texas. The early Scandinavians found them in the northeast
and named the area Vinland. Later immigrants brought the Old World
varieties that are all Vitis vinifera. They soon found them susceptible
to downy mildew, black rot, and worst of all, Phylloxera.
Our native varieties were resistant in varying degrees so it
became imperative to utilize them if we were to have any grape
culture in the New World. The simplest method was to hunt superior
varieties in the wild and propagate them. Since the earliest settlements
were in the Eastern Coast the early varieties came from Vitis
labrusca, native in that area. Concord was an early selection
and is still used commercially. Others selected from V. labrusca
are Ives, Perkins, Cottage, Eaton, Lutie, Martha, Moore Early,
Vegennes and Worden, most of which are no longer available. Some
selections were also made from other native varieties such as
V. aestivalis (Norton) and the muscadines (Scuppernong).
Any history of grapes in Texas is mostly the story of one man's
life work—T.V. Munson. He was inspired by visiting Dr. Robert
Peter near Lexington, Kentucky, who was a grape enthusiast, former
instructor, and had a collection of American grapes. He collected
seeds of 30 or 40 kinds and planted them in Nebraska. All were
lost. He hunted wild grapes but only Vitis vulpina is native in
Nebraska. He finally decided Nebraska was not a good grape country
and came to Texas in 1876. He began planting vineyards in 1878.
Together with Gilbert Onderdonk, he decided to improve the local
species since V. vinifera and V. labrusca did not succeed there.
Botany was studied using Dr. George Engelmann's classification
and by visiting grape herbariums at Missouri Botanical Gardens,
Harvard University, and in Philadelphia and Washington. Dr. Vasey
and Dr. Van Deman of the United States Department of Agriculture
were helpful in preparing the classification of grape species
published in 1909 by T. V. Munson as the result of work begun
in 1885. Munson lists 13 species of which 7 occur in the Red River
area and 6 in the San Antonio-Del Rio area. Coulter lists one
more bring the number of definite species in Texas to 14. A recent
publication lists only 8. Vines omits doaniana, cordifolia, riparia,
longii, palmata, and rotundifolia, evidently merely an oversight.
Some, such as berlandieri, monticola, riparia and rupestris
were used to produce hybrids for rootstocks and some were used
to develop the more resistant French hybrids. This was done in
France with materials sent to that country by T.V. Munson. He
also included some selections developed by his close friend, Hermann
Jaeger of Neosho, Missouri, one of which used Jaeger 43 to get
direct producing hybrids.
The problems in Texas were phylloxera, a microscopic root insect
that destroyed the pure vinifera and labrusca varieties, and cotton
root rot which attacks a number of species. The root-rot susceptible
species appear to be those that are not native to Central Texas
with the exception of rupestris. The post-oak grape (Vitis lincecumii)
is common along the Red River so that it was more convenient for
Munson to select from these at ripening time, so this has been
his main base for breeding new varieties. However, as he says:
"I have made hybrid combinations with nearly every species...in
order to discover the best in existence". By far, the greatest
number of introductions were made by Mr. Munson. Although many
have been lost, a strong effort is being made to save and preserve
what can be found in a 17-acre Memorial vineyard at the Grayson
County Junior College.
Cotton root-rot (Phymatotrichum omnivorum) is a limiting factor
in growing grapes in Southwest Texas. The vinifera varieties are
all susceptible and many of the table varieties of the American
grapes. This stimulated a study of root-stocks to overcome this.
Collections of wild species were made and tested for root-rot
resistance under field conditions at Winter Haven, Texas, by the
Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. Munson had also made notes
on this disease at Denison. Munson reported a high survival at
Denison for bourquiniana, candicans, lincecumii and rotundifolia.
He also reported high survival under severe root-rot conditions
at Winter Haven for bourguiniana, candicans, champini, lincecumii,
berlandieri, cinerea, monticola and rotundifolia.
To be successful as a grape root-stock, a variety must propagate
readily by cuttings. This eliminates species that propagate poorly
by cuttings such as candicans, berlandieri, monticola, and rotundifolia.
The outstanding varieties of those which will root readily from
cuttings are Dog Ridge and La Pryor. The latter is undoubtedly
a natural hybrid of candicans and rupestris found on the Nueces
river in Zavala County. It is very likely that Dog Ridge may also
be a natural hybrid of candicans with another species.
A study of varieties for resistance to root rot and Pierces
disease was also made at Winter Haven. A high survival was found
for Black Spanish (Lenoir), Champanel, Delaware, Herbemont, Lomanto,
Lukfata, Marguerite, Neva Munson, Nitodal, Salamander, Sunrise,
Valhallah and Wine King. The origin of these, together with notes
from other areas, are provided below:
Black Spanish and Herbemont are pure Vitis bourquiniana. Munson
considered them to have been introduced from abroad since he never
found them in a wild state. Loomis found both of them to be resistant
to Pierces disease at Meridian, Miss. Susceptible to Phymatotrchum
at Winter Haven in Texas.
Champanel (from a cross of Vitis champini X Worden, a Concord
seedling) is a rampant grower and widely adapted. It is reported
to be long-lived in Mississippi and resistant to black rot and
downy mildew. It was one of three dependable varieties in San
Antonio tests. The others were Lukfata and Valhallah.
Delaware was considered to be a bourquiniana hybrid by Munson.
Loomis also found it to be long-lived at Meridian, Mississippi.
Husmann, from Armlong X Perry and having lincecumii and bourquiniana
in its makeup, was considered by Munson to be a much better table
and market grape than Herbemont. He also says it endures Texas
Lomanto is from a cross of Salado X Pense which makes it of
complex origin with champini, vinifera and bourquiniana. Loomis
reported it long-lived at Meridian, Mississippi but there was
some loss from root-rot at Winter Haven, Texas.
Lukfata (Champini X Moore Early) is a strong grower but needs
a pollinator. Berries are sweet. It was one of three dependable
varieties at San Antonio.
Marguerite (Secundo X Herbemont) has both lincecumii and bourquiniana
as parents, which are both resistant to Pierces disease. Loomis
also reports Marguerite as long-lived at Meridian. It had a high
yield. It resembles Black Spanish but with larger berries.
Neva Munson (Neosho X Herbemont) has a similar parentage to
Marguerite. Similar in appearance to Black Spanish and rated a
superior wine grape by Munson.
Nitodal (Salado X Pense) has the same origin as Lomanto. It
apparently has not been widely tested. I would agree with Munson
in his rating of "altogether very attractive and valuable,
especially in limy soils in a hot climate". Survived 100%
at Winter Haven.
Salamander (not described by Munson) has candicans in its makeup.
There was some loss to root rot at Winter Haven.
Sunrise (not described by Munson) is not reported elsewhere.
Seedling of Brilliant is of high quality and is probably an escape
from disease at Winter Haven.
Valhallah (Elvicand X Brilliant) is a strong grower with sweet
dark red fruit of very good quality and is probably an escape
from disease at Winter Haven. It is rated resistant to both downy
mildew and black rot.
Aside from the extensive work of T. V. Munson, California has
had a good breeding program but mainly with vinifera, which does
well there. In the Southeastern states there has been considerable
work on muscadines in Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. Other
breeding work has centered in New York, Ohio and Ontario. Some
attempts have been made to extend grapes to the tropics where
vinifera does not succeed. This work has been largely in Florida.
Extreme south Texas and south Florida lack sufficient dormancy
for commercial varieties. The high incidence of Pierces disease
in the Southern States has stimulated intensive studies in Florida,
which have released Blue Lake, Lake Emerald, Norris, Stover and
Liberty, Dayton, Conquistador, and Suwannee varieties resistant
to the disease.