With Florida being home to approximately 40 wineries, scientists are researching and growing new varieties to meet the increasing market demand for Florida-grown grapes.
According to a statement by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), as of 2017 (the most recent year for which there’s data), growers in the Sunshine State were producing over 1,500 acres of muscadine grapes, which accounts for a 74 percent increase in 10 years.
Ali Sarkhosh, who is an assistant professor of horticultural sciences at UF/IFAS, is trying to grow varieties bred by scientists at Florida A&M University, the University of Georgia and the University of California, Davis.
Sarkhosh pointed out that “Florida’s mild winter climate and early spring season offer unique opportunities for early-season, fresh-market muscadines, a few weeks ahead of Georgia and North Carolina.”
Farmers in those two states grow muscadine grapes and deliver them to supermarkets in August, September and October.
“We are evaluating the performance of newly bred muscadine grapes, developed by the University of Georgia, to generate practical information on their productivity, berry quality and suitability for the Florida production window,” Sarkhosh said.
As with any crop, UF/IFAS scientists must protect against pathogens. Pierce’s disease presents the primary enemy for growing muscadine grapes in Florida, due mainly to the warm, humid climate.
In June 2021, Sarkhosh started a trial to evaluate the performance of UC-Davis cultivars to see if they tolerate Pierce’s disease pressure in Florida’s climate. Results remain incomplete on that trial.
“We also have a block of Chenin blanc, a white wine grape variety, for our research on cultural production optimization,” Sarkhosh said.
Sarkhosh is conducting his grape research and Extension at the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit (PSREU) in Citra, between Gainesville and Ocala, working with the Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research at Florida A&M University.
To conclude, Sarkhosh sees a bright future for Florida-grown grapes. On August 18, he will present some of his grape-growing data as part of UF/IFAS’s fourth annual Grape Field Day at a walk-and-talk at the PSREU research field.
Florida muscadine grape producers will be harvesting soon, in July and August.