The Magazine of Horticulture 20(2): 63-67 (February, 1854)
C. M Hovey

ART. III. Description and Engraving of the Concord Grape, a new Seedling, raised by E. W. Bull, Concord, Mass.
By the Editor.

The grape is one of the most grateful and delicious of all fruits. From the days of Noah, "who planted vineyards," the vine has been the most universally-cultivated of all fruit-bearing plants. The promised land was a "and of wheat, and barley, and vines." Throughout the Bible, the vine is represented as the emblem of fruitfulness and plenty, yielding, as it does, at an earlier age, and in a profusion far beyond any other fruit. Its growth extends over 30 degrees of latitude on the Eastern continent—from Persia to France; and to such an extent has its culture increased, that, according to Chaptal, the quantity of wine produced in the latter country, as long ago as 1819, was 600,000,000 imperial gallons, and now exceeds a thousand millions. To whatever extent other fruits may have been cultivated, they bear no proportion to that of the vine. From one single species have been produced all the varieties which make up the European collections, now numbering more than three hundred sorts. A greater portion of these are wine grapes, not more than fifty varieties being retained by English cultivators as worthy of cultivation for the table.

But as much as the grape is esteemed,—that is, the superior varieties of foreign origin,—and as extensively as it has been cultivated in Europe, we have been and still are unable to grow it in our own climate, except by artificial means. Repeated attempts to raise it, both in a smaller and larger way, have all resulted in the same manner—a complete and total failure, unless in the confined yards of our thickly-crowded cities, and its out-door growth has been mostly abandoned.

In anticipation of such a result, our cultivators long since turned their attention to our native vines, which grow spontaneously, and in great variety, all over the United States, comprising several species. Rough, foxy, and unpalatable as most of them are, compared with the French table grapes, they had to raise these or none. Those of our northern region were found to be very indifferent, but the observation and attention of intelligent cultivators at the South soon enabled them to seek out and select varities which possessed the greatest merit. Among these, the Isabella and Catawba were the first to attract any particular notice; the former a native of South Carolina, and the latter of Georgia. Their introduction gave a new impulse to the growth of the grape everywhere. The Isabella proved to be not only a very excellent variety, but hardy enough to endure the climate of the New England States. No fruit ever became more rapidly extended. Every individual who had a rod of ground procured an Isabella vine; and, from its first introduction in 1819 to the present time, it has been the only variety, with the exception of the Diana, worth growing in the Northern and Eastern States. In the Western and Middle States, where the Catawba will ripen, that is the best grape, and it has superseded the Isabella, especially for the manufacture of wine.

But in the New England States, and the parallel north of 42°, the great desideratum has been a table grape of superior quality, sufficiently early to ripen in all seasons. The Diana, but very recently introduced, has, to a certain extent, supplied this; it will ripen its delicious fruit in all places where the Isabella fails, and will eventually take the place of that somewhat uncertain variety, ripening thoroughly not more than two seasons out of five. But something earlier even than the Diana is yet wanted; one that will ripen early in September, a free grower, perfectly hardy, of large size, of fine quality, and producing an abundant crop. All intelligent cultivators have felt the necessity of such a grape, and have been confident that a few years would bring about the result.

Long ago impressed with the opinion that our native grape was capable of being greatly ameliorated and improved, through the seeds, Mr. E. W. Bull turned his attention to their production, and now has growing more than 2000 seedling plants, from some of which he hopes even to beat himself. It will take a long time to prove them all, but the result cannot be otherwise than important: for the natural habit of the vine once changed or broken, variation takes place in such a manner that no opinion can be formed of the product. His success in raising the Concord Grape is the best proof of this.

Mr. Bull has given a brief history of his new variety, and it will be noticed that he calls it a seedling from our native grape of the second generation. It is this: some years ago he found a chance seedling growing upon his grounds near a wall; as there are no wild grapes in the near vicinity of his place he removed it to his garden, where he watched it with some care, and gave it good cultivation. In a year or two it produced a few bunches of fruit, ripening as early as the last part of August, and remarkably sweet and free from the foxy flavor of the wild type. The idea at once occurred to him that another generation would be a still greater improvement, and a parcel of seeds was saved for planting. His anticipations have been fully realized; the Concord Grape was the produce of these seeds. We annex Mr. Bull's account of the origin of his vine, with an accurate engraving of the bunch. (Fig. 2, see Frontispiece.)

Dear Sir;—I send you the history of the Concord Grape, which you desired for your excellent Magazine. I have by no means said all that can be said for it, my desire being to have it come fully up to the expectations of those who may cultivate it, which I have no doubt it will.

I believe I have before stated to you that my vine is growing on a poor sandy loam, overlaying gravel, which has not been trenched and but slightly manured; add to this, the late spring and early autumn frosts, which we are liable to in this deep valley of Concord, and the summer droughts which are very severe with me, and I think you will conclude with me that it will be likely to keep up to its character under almost any circumstances.

And here let me say that I have cultivated the Isabella, and many other kinds of grape, for fifteen years without being able to ripen them in open culture, and it was this constant failure which led me, about ten years since, to raise seedlings from our native grapes, in the hope that I should obtain a hardy grape that would give me a sure supply for my table. In this I have succeeded beyond my expectations.

The Concord Grape is a seedling, in the second generation, of our native grape, and fruited for the first time four years since, being at that time the only seedling I had raised which showed a decided improvement on the wild type. Notwithstanding its unfavorable position, it has proved a great grower and bearer, and very constant to its quality and season. The seedling from which the Concord was raised grew near to a Catawba, and, it is quite possible, was impregnated by it, it having the flavor of that variety. The parent vine was a good and sweet grape, large, black, and ripe the 30th of August.

The Concord Grape, as I said before, is a strong grower; the wood strong, the foliage large, thick, strongly nerved, with a woolly under-surface, and has never mildewed nor rusted under any vicissitudes of weather.

The grape is large, frequently an inch in diameter, and the bunches handsome, shouldered, and sometimes weigh a pound. In color it is a ruddy black, covered with a dense blue bloom, the skin very thin, the juice abundant, with a sweet aromatic flavor, and it has very little pulp.

It ripens the 10th of September. The first ripe bunch of the season was exhibited at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's Room, on the 3d of September, 1853. The vine was neither pruned nor pinched, nor had application of any of the horticultural arts, whereby precocity and size are attained, my object being to ascertain what would be the constant habit of the vine. I suppose that its quality would be much improved in a more favorable climate, and that its superiority to the Isabella would be as apparent under such circumstances as it is here.

The great want of the country in this latitude is a good table and wine grape, which shall also be early, hardy, and prolific. The Concord Grape fulfils these conditions, and I feel a sincere pleasure in offering it to my countrymen.— Respectfully yours, E. W. Bull. Concord, Mass., January, 1854.

We have said nothing about its qualities as a wine grape. Mr. Bull, however, exhibited some specimens of the wine made from his grape, which were tasted by the committee, and pronounced by them to be of a very excellent quality. It was his first attempt at wine-making, and of course not likely to be made with much skill. It has been much praised by several who have tasted it, and some of the persons good judges. It has a good body, with an agreeable, fruity perfume, and is particularly grateful to the sick, which Mr. Bull considers the best test it could have. It did not have the slightest addition of spirits, but was the pure juice of the grape.

We close our account of the Concord Grape with a more full description.

Bunch, large, long, neither compact nor loose, handsomely shouldered: Berries, roundish, large, three quarters of an inch in diameter, sometimes measuring an inch: Skin, thin, very dark, covered with a thick-blue bloom: Flesh, very juicy, nearly or quite free from pulp: Flavor, rich, saccharine, and sprightly, with much of the delicious aroma of the Catawba: Vine, very vigorous, making strong wood: Leaves, very large, thick, strongly nerved, not much lobed, and woolly beneath.