The recent history of domesticating the native cold-hardy Katuah Muscadine grape began about seven years ago when Chuck and Jeannie Blethen were directed to some wild muscadine grapevines growing up into the trees at the edge of a forest near Hot Springs, North Carolina. They talked with an old gentleman who was trying to propagate them. They dug up a small vine or two to transplant in their vineyard and started learning about muscadines. Interestingly, Chuck had to “forget” almost everything he knew about propagating regular grapes - and everything else, from trellising, spacing, pruning, harvesting, and making wine - because muscadines are different in every way.
The most significant aspect of these grapes is that they are cold-hardy and disease resistant. When Chuck & Jeannie first started working with them, they were told with no uncertainty that “there is no such thing as a cold-hardy muscadine.” One of North Carolina’s leading grape experts from the Cooperative Extension Office in Raleigh requested photos of the trunk, leaves, and tendrils in order to confirm that their grape was indeed a muscadine. Even then, they were told by local ag specialists that the grapes would probably be bitter and inedible because it was so cold and the growing season so short they could never get ripe. Not only was this not true, but the grapes have a true sweet muscadine flavor and deep black-purple color when ripe.
It took about three years to master the propagation technique. Most traditional non-muscadine grapes can be propagated easily by taking a cane and planting it in the spring. The success rate using this approach is 95%. If you use this propagation technique for the muscadine the success rate is less than 1%. Muscadine greenwood cuttings have to be taken in late Spring after they have fully leafed out and then rooted in a special growing mix in a greenhouse at a specific temperature and humidity. With the help of a friend who is a bio-engineer with her own special propagating wizardry, they now supply hundreds of rooted vines to people who are eager to have their own vineyard of these unique grapes. Jewel of the Blue Ridge Vineyard was the first vineyard to be planted with these special grapes. Chuck dubbed them “Katuah Muscadines” after the Cherokee name for the Southern Appalachian bioregion. After four years of the Katuah Muscadines growing in the vineyard one of their discoveries was the fact that theygrow about 20% larger when trellised and properly pruned compared to the ones growing in the wild.
One of the most positive aspects of this grape is that it is truly native, and thus immune to the myriad diseases and pests that afflict other grapes. The Blethens maintain a row of Clinton grapes, along with some Niagaras, with three native muscadines at the far end, just so people can see the difference in the effects of the ever present Black Rot on regular grapes compared to the Katuah Muscadines. While the former are besieged with brown spots on the leaves and grapes slowly turning brown and falling off, the muscadines are thriving with hardly a trace of the disease. That means no use of chemicals and the labor to apply them as with other traditional grapes grown in the mountains.
Then came a question about what to do about getting a cold-hardy scuppernong - there were no wild scuppernongs in the mountains. After a serendipitous sprouting of hundreds of seeds from the discarded “must” from some organic scuppernongs picked in the Tryon area, the Blethens experimented with growing a cold-hardy Katuah Scuppernong from seeds. Out of many hundreds of plants rooted from seeds, only the scuppernong vines with the cold-hardy gene survived two winters in the mountains. Grapes are like apples in that they do not breed true from seeds. There are four possibilities from grapes grown from seeds: some will be sterile and never bear fruit, some will be male, some will be female, and some will be self pollinating. The goal of the Blethens was to produce self pollinating Scuppernong vines. You have to plant them and then wait for 3-4 years before you can determine which you have by waiting for the grape blooms to appear and then use a magnifying glass to “sex” them. In 2016, they finally had identifiedseveral of the surviving cold-hardy scuppernong vines to be self-pollinating. The Blethens have named their new cold-hardy grape the Katuah Scuppernong. It takes a lot of time and patience to succeed at this kind of endeavor. Those self pollinating scuppernongs are now being used for propagation stock. What was thought to be impossible is now possible: cold-hardy muscadines and scuppernongs will grow in the mountains, offering future vineyard and winery owners additional product possibilities.
The Blethens not only sell the Katuah Muscadine vines from their greenhouse. They also conduct the Mountain Grape School, a series ofclasses on every aspect of growing grapes in the mountains in their vineyard and farm-based classroom.
The economic development benefits of the native cold-hardy muscadines are significant for the mountain counties of western North Carolina. Depending upon a number of vineyard installation decisions, the mountain farmers of muscadines can expect to see $6000 to $9000 per acre gross sales. As future wineries/distilleries and other value-added businesses evolve around the mountain viticulture industry the tax revenue for the government will also increase. Thus we now have a native grape driving a the emerging mountain viticulture industry, with positive impact both for individual farmers and for the government. People can learn more about these special mountain muscadines at
Learn more about the Katuah Muscadine Grapes here:
Jewel Of The Blue Ridge Vineyard Video - Katuah Muscadine Grapes