Depending on the home gardener’s regional climate and growing goals, nearly anyone can grow some type of grape vine. Warm climates with hot, dry days and cool, humid nights are well-suited for growing wine grapes of the species Vitis vinifera. Gardeners in cooler regions, where growing wine grapes is more difficult, can still plant a variety of table grapes or even wild grapes. Be warned, though: wild grapes are considered noxious weeds in many states, as they grow aggressively and may not be for sale in commercial nurseries.
Many types of wine grapes grown in the United States are of European origin. Because a bacteria present in American soils is lethal to non-native grapes, many commercially available plants have been grafted onto rootstock of native grapes in order to give introduced varieties a natural resistance to the pathogen.
French-American hybrid varieties include Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc, DeChaunac and Chambourcin. Others, including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot varieties are of non-French European origin and are widely available through commercial nurseries or grape vine stock retailers. Depending on the state’s agricultural laws, vines purchased for import may require a substantial amount of time in quarantine to ensure that they are pest and disease free.
American wine grape varieties include Concord, Niagara, Delaware, Reliance and Canadice. These varieties exhibit better cold hardiness than their hybrid or foreign counterparts.
Some varieties of American grapes that are used in wine production also make excellent table grapes. Table grapes can be eaten right from the vine, or processed into jellies, jams and juices. The two most widely available varieties are the purple Concord grape and the white Niagara grape, and are usually for sale at commercial nurseries with a large selection of plant stock.
Other American varieties suitable for use as a table grape include Canadice, Catawba, Muscadine, Steuben, Bluebell, Himrod and Vanessa, though the home gardener may need to specially send off for these varieties through mail-order nurseries.
The United States and Canada together are home to over 20 species of wild grape, comprising nearly half of all wild grape species in the world. The four most common varieties, found across most of the country, include the riverbank grape (Vitis riparia), frost grape (Vitis vulpina), summer grape (Vitis aestivalis), and catbird grape (Vitis palmata). Native grapevines generally grow in moist, fertile forest soils and occur frequently next to streams, ponds, roadsides and on the edges of woods. Wild grapes are important food sources for birds, rodents, foxes and other small mammals.
Nearly all varieties of table and wine grapes under cultivation today derive from one or more species of native American grape, though in their natural habitat the fruits tend to be musky and sour.