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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Open 9 to 6 Mon. through Sat.
and 10 to 5 on Sun.

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

Click here

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 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 climates well.

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.