As North Carolina growers look for new options to diversify their farming operations many are trying their hand at a crop that is actually older than the state itself -- grapes. According to the N.C. Department of Commerce wine production in the Old North State has been researched, on and off, since Giovanni de Verrazzano explored the Cape River Valley for France in 1524. Verrazzano wrote he found "… Many vines growing naturally there. Grapes of such greatness, yet wild, as France, Spain, nor Italy hath no greater."
Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe explored the N.C. coast for Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, NCDC says, and discovered the area "so full of grapes as the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed them… in all the world, the like abundance is not to be found."
North Carolina, notes the NCDC site, is home to the nation's first cultivated grape. And with such superlatives put on them by the explorers, above, it seems surprising that grapes haven't always been a top crop for the state. On the other hand, because of climate and conditions, farmers have had many other competitive options.
But wine grapes are now making a real surge in the Carolina-Virginia region. Experts say grapes and wine industry in North Carolina now has a value over $30 million. Virginia actually tripled wine exports in a single year in 2012, and North Carolina growers are also making competitive strides.
There are some good information resources for new grape growers in North Carolina and Virginia. The North Carolina Winegrape Growers Guide is a 196-page publication put out by N.C. State University's Department of Horticultural Science with chapters on many critical aspects of production. It includes vital information on varieties, vine establishment, pruning, pest control, nutrition, and much more. It can be downloaded here.
North Carolina's Cooperative Extension Service also offers a number of helpful publications, including the Muscadine Grape Production Guide. It includes tips on land preparation, weeds, soil fertility and pH, row spacing and more; it is downloadable.
A large number of additional resources on muscadine grapes are also available from NCSU's website.