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Mystery of the Unripe Grapes

By Rick Gush, Urban Farm Contributing Editor

Friday, October 29, 2010

Unripe grapes

Photo by Rick Gush

The majority of my grapes this year look like this—unripe—and I can't figure out why.

I'm throwing in the towel: My grapes are not going to ripen this year. The vine is loaded, and there were hundreds of bunches hanging in the sunshine, but only about 5 percent or less of the bunches are ripe. I've trimmed away a lot of the foliage now, and there are large masses of clusters hanging all over the big vine. It looks like a great crop, but in fact, as I'm finally admitting, it's all fodder for the compost pile.

The grape vine is a Concord type, and the value comes in the wonderful dusky sweetness that developes in the ripe grapes. The unripe grapes aren't really tart—they just have no flavor. We’ve tried to eat the unripened grapes, but they aren't enjoyable. Phooey! We will get a few bunches of ripe grapes here and there, but I think that 5 percent is really too generous an estimate.

Ripe grapes

Photo by Rick Gush

I wish more of my grapes were ripe like this bunch.

The weather hasn't been particularly odd in the past few months. August was hot, September was also mostly hot, and we've had a few rainstorms in October. I can't think of any particular cultural events that might explain it. This grape gets minimal care, mostly just a good pruning each winter.  There have been no visible pests to note and no noticeable leaf damage or other signs.  I've looked around at other people's grape crops this year and haven't noticed anyone else having a similar problem.

I've been a horticultural consultant for a fair amount of time, but I've never seen this happen to a grape crop before. If there's anyone out there with a similar story or an educated guess, I'd love to hear it. Actually, this is one of the things I love about growing plants. A garden is always full of surprises, even for someone who has been working in that garden for many years. As I get older and the breadth of my horticultural experience increases, the less certain I become. 

It's a real tragedy to throw all this fruit away. I was thinking of making some verjus, which is the classic unripe-grape juice, but actually, I'm not crazy for that beverage. I do think the grapes might have still made acceptable raisins, but I just don't have the time this year to do all that cleaning and drying and turning. Too bad. I could have made 50 pounds of raisins with all those grapes.

Read more of Digging Italy »

Give us your opinion on Mystery of the Unripe Grapes.
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I am having the same problem with my grape vine. I dont know what kind of grapes they are I have resulted in picking the ripe grapes one by one.

I am unsure what triggers the grapes to turn. I noticed the clusters on the far west side of the vine had more ripe grapes. The vine is thiner there so idk if it is the sun that is causing it or cooler tempratures at night but the clusters in the thick of the vine are all green.

I did cut them back last winter, and I havent seen any pest like i have in the years past which is strange normally the vine is flooded with bee's.

I am open to any suggestions or insight to this grape situation.
Randall, Lawton, OK
Posted: 7/16/2012 10:56:03 AM
Some years even the vines don't want to put in the work that we think they should.
Carl, Livermore, CA
Posted: 2/16/2012 10:36:19 AM
Hi David,
Yeah, it's weird. Some others around here are having this same problem, but not everybody. Too bad, I just got a grape crusher today, it would have been nice to make grape juice, but I've got too much other stuff to do. I'm going to rebuild the whole grape trellis this winter and cut the vine back about fifty percent. I'm fairly confident that this lousy year won't repeat often.
rick, rapallo, YT
Posted: 10/31/2010 10:39:08 AM
I have never grown grapes so I don't have any advice but it sure is a mystery especially when others around you are not having the same problem. Growing plants certainly is a challange and nature seems to always have a mystery up her sleeve doesn't she?

Have a great garden day.
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 10/31/2010 6:36:22 AM

About the Blogger

Rick Gush

Rick Gush
Rick Gush has long been a staunch organic gardener. While a student at the University of California at Davis he worked at local tomato and sugar beet farms and continued in the agricultural and horticultural industries for many years. A career move in the 1990s led him to design computer games, but no matter how much of a techie he’s become, gardening and farming remain his principal passions.

In 2000, Rick moved to Italy, where he writes to you about his cliff garden and other experiences in Italian urban agriculture.

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