Rick Gush
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.

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