Grapes are among the oldest cultivated fruits, and are extremely adaptable; there is a species for practically every USDA hardiness zone. Grapevines can live to 100 years or more, and a mature grapevine can produce 10 to 20 pounds of fruit every year. Three primary species of grapevines are suited for planting in different growing regions: European wine grapes; fox grapes, which are found throughout the eastern United States; and muscadine grapes, which grow in warm, humid conditions.
European Wine Grapes
European wine grapes, or vinifera, are used primarily to make wine and raisins. They make up over 90 percent of the country's commercial grape crop, according to "The Gardener's Desk Reference," by Janet Marinelli. These grapes grow best in areas where the winters are mild and the summers are hot and dry. They have a mild, sweet flavor and meaty flesh. Two examples are Thompson Seedless and Pinot Noir.
Fox grapes, also called American grapes, are native to the Eastern United States and are more pest-resistant than European grapes. The fox grape has a stronger flavor than European wine grapes, according to Mark Rieger, professor of horticulture at The University of Georgia. Characterized by their slipskin, in which the skin of the grape slips off easily, fox grapes are cultivated mainly for commercial use in jellies, jams and sweet grape juice. Varieties include the Concord, Catawba and Niagara.
American grapes have been cultivated with European types to create a French-American hybrid to boost their resistance to pests. These types are used for wine production and include varieties such as Seyval, Vidal Blanc and Marechal Foch.
Muscadine grapes grow best in areas where the temperature does not go below zero, such as the Southern United States, according to James Underwood Crockett, in his book, "Vegetables and Fruits." The muscadine is characterized by its smaller fruit clusters and thick skins. The muscadine species contains several female-only varieties that must be planted near self-pollinating varieties of muscadine in order for the female-only plant to bear fruit. Varieties include Nesbitt, Scuppernong and Higgins.