|Himrod Grape Cluster|
Someone may already be asking the question "well, those grapes aren't very expensive, why don't I just go ahead and give that a shot?" The short answer is: seedless table grapes tend to make lousy wine. The long answer is essentially the same, but with much more detail. If you've read the site more than once, you'll know that I don't like short answers, so buckle up, because here we go.
First we need to consider where seedless grapes come from and why they are the way they are. Seedless fruit is not a naturally occurring phenomenon since, for a plant, the seed inside the fruit is the natural way for the plant to propogate itself. Seedless fruit is typically bred by humans as a convenience for consumers. Many people aren't very comfortable with the process of spitting things out and for fruit like watermelon or grapes, there isn't really any clean, comfortable way to eat around the seeds. Further, if you offer people the choice between food that is messy and a lot of work to eat or fruit that is easy to just pop in your mouth, they'll choose the path of least resistance almost every time.
Grapes have a kind of double whammy of trouble, though. Not only are the seeds inedible and an inconvenience to eat around, but the skins are also very thick and often inedible, so the grape must be eaten either by popping the pulp out of the skins directly into the mouth (and then spitting out the seeds) or by eating the whole grape and spitting the skin and seeds out together. Finicky eaters are not fond of either option and when you add to all that the fact that many grapes have high levels of tannins in their skins (and seeds) which are very bitter and can cause an astringent sensation in the mouth, well, you're starting to see the many different reasons some people may have for deciding not to eat grapes at all.
|Lakemont Grape Bunches|
And so on, etc. But Mr. Pitchman, we may ask, if these grapes are so amazing then why aren't more wines made from them? And why is it that the wines that are made from them aren't very exciting? There are a few answers. First of all, the skins on the seedless grapes are so thin that they don't impart much flavor to the wine. This isn't a big deal in white wine making where there is minimal skin contact anyway, but it's a huge deal-breaker for red wine production. The main reason, though, is that the grapes themselves just don't taste like very much. There are a number of possible reasons for this. First of all, it may just be that the bland flavor of seedless grapes is what appeals to the largest cross-section of consumers and is thus what sells the best. It's also likely that whatever flavors the grapes may have is diluted due to the fact that they are designed and employed to produce massive amounts of grapes per vine. Take another look at that Himrod cluster at the top of the page. The clusters are enormous and the goal of the grower is always to get as many of those clusters as possible from the vines since tonnage is all that matters. Deep, explosive flavors are irrelevant in table grape production. You just want as many bunches as possible.
All of which brings us to the two grapes that this particular wine is made from. The first is Himrod, which was developed and then released in 1952 by the New York Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York, which is located at the northern tip of Seneca Lake. The second grape is Lakemont, which was released in 1972 from the same institution. Both grapes are hybrids and are siblings of one another, which means that the parentage for each is identical (there are two other grapes that are the result of this same parentage: Interlaken and Romulus). In all cases, the two parents are Ontario, itself a crossing (or possibly a hybrid as I'm not sure about the exact species designation of the two parents) between Winchell and Diamond, and Thompson Seedless, which I did not realize was actually a vinifera grape until today (it is native to either Turkey, Greece or Iran). All four of the sibling grapes are named for towns in the Finger Lakes region.