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How do I choose grape cultivars for high tunnel production in the southeast?

Answer: Selecting appropriate cultivars is critical for success with high tunnel grape production. Attributes to consider when selecting cultivars include vigor (speed of vine growth), hardiness (cold tolerance), disease resistance, harvest date (early, mid, or late season), yield potential, grape cluster attributes and flavor, and adaptation to your specific environment. The ATTRA publication High Tunnel Grapes: Establishment offers a useful table listing University of Arkansas table grape cultivars with descriptions. These grape cultivars have been selected for the warm, humid environment of the Southeast, with varying degrees of disease resistance.

It is important to consider the preferences of your customers and marketing channels when selecting cultivars. Most consumers are accustomed to seedless, non-slipskin table grapes such as ‘Thompson Seedless.’ Some of the Arkansas table grape varieties are “slipskin” grapes, which exhibit the characteristic of the skin easily pulling away from the flesh when bitten into, resulting in flesh and juices squirting out. This attribute is common to American-type or “labrusca” grapes from the species Vitis labrusca. Labrusca grapes are often described as having a “musky” or “foxy” flavor that is either treasured or disliked by consumers, depending on their flavor preferences. Vinifera table grapes are from European parentage, Vitis vinifera, and tend to have a much milder flavor than labrusca (with the exception of muscat-types).

Grape vines should be ordered several months in advance of planting, to ensure availability of desired cultivars. To ensure that the plant material you receive is disease-free, look for nurseries that offer “certified” clean grape vines. States such as California, Missouri, Oregon, and Washington have developed grape-certification programs to ensure disease-free planting material.

The following ATTRA publications will be useful as you continue your research:

High Tunnel Grapes: Establishment
High Tunnel Tree Fruit and Grape Production for Eastern Growers
Grapes: Organic Production
High Tunnels in Urban Agriculture