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  • From: "Lon J. Rombough" <>
  • To: North American Fruit Explorers <>
  • Subject: Re: [NAFEX] Question for Lon - or anyone
  • Date: Mon, 23 Nov 2009 19:04:58 -0800

There is an amazing range of flavors possible in grapes, not just a balance of sugar and acid. Some I've tried include: cherry, black currant, strawberry, pear, almond, a whole spectrum of Concord-like derivatives, not to mention the ones like muscat, riesling, herbaceous, green pepper, etc.
The reason there aren't many like that in stores is the need to have firm grapes that hold up in storage and shipping. It's not just firm berries, you need varieties with stems that don't break or turn brown in storage. The berry skin mustn't be TOO tough, but tough enough the berries won't spoil easily.
Point is, it's hard to select varieties that have ALL the necessary commercial traits. A breeder can easily go through 5,000 or more seedlings without finding one that combines all the characteristics desired.
So most breeders have to settle for a lack of bad flavors rather than looking FOR a specific flavor.
There are breeders ( mostly private ones) at work on new grapes with more flavors, but many of their creations still have seeds and can't survive long distance shipping.
If you really want to explore the range of flavors in grapes, the best way is to grow your own, and be willing to eat grapes that have seeds.
-Lon Rombough
Grapes, writing, consulting, my book, The Grape Grower, at Winner of the Garden Writers Association "Best Talent in Writing" award for 2003.
Grape pruning video: View a short, low resolution clip here:
A video about The Grape Grower :

On Nov 23, 2009, at 2:42 PM, Stephen Sadler wrote:

There are the on-the-tongue flavors, like sweet and acid/sour; then there are the deeper flavors, richness, that let you know one sweet/acid fruit from another.  Some of these crisp, balanced grapes I’ve been buying lately do well with the former, but the latter is completely missing.  I love those crispy things though – a fruit that is juicy, sweet, tart, and snaps when I bite it is something I can forgive even a lack of depth of flavor.  But a concentrate of these grapes is used as a fruit-based sweetener; there is nothing there to influence the final flavor.  Try that with Concord concentrate – it would overwhelm.  Concord is, I suppose, what I think of as iconically grapey – but I don’t care which grapiness  a grape his, or what other flavors it brings to the table.  I remember my first time tasting wine grapes, like Pinot Noir,  full of rich flavor.  Why hadn’t it occurred to me before that delicious wine would come from delicious grapes?  And why are some varieties only considered wine grapes, rather than table grapes, or grapes to be preserved by methods other that juice fermentation? 
When I was young seeded full-flavored table varieties were giving way to seedless ones.   What made me think of all this is that the other day at the store a mother was buying grapes for her daughter.  She picked a seedless variety racked just above the Concords.  I was thinking, “That poor child may have never actually tasted ‘grape’ “ – at least not in an actual grape.  Turned out the mother hadn’t either.
For a long time I had simply thought seedless, thornless, and otherwise convenient fruits often are coincidentally bereft of fullness and complexity of flavor, and that a proper goal of plant breeding would be to have both flavor and convenience in one or more varieties. 
Now I wonder.  Warm-water ocean fish outsell colder water ocean or fresh-water fish.  My suspicion about why this is was confirmed when I read that Tilapia producers had bred the ‘fishiness’ out of it to suit the American palate; one which seems to want fish to be a Wonderbread of a main course, with all the flavor coming from sauces, breading, fat, salt.  Fat and salt, but not the flavorful fats beneath the skin of cold-water fish, not the salt of brine.  I bought venison a while back that has been bred to be the Tilapia of game; and store-bought pheasant is milder that factory-produced skinless, boneless, fill-in-your-own-less chicken breasts. 
Is this happening with fruit?  Or are fruit-eaters a healthier and more hedonistic sort that enjoys flavor?  Or is fruit breeding now influenced by people who can’t stand any full-flavored thing, who sit in front of the TV with their breaded-mystery-meat sandwich, a deep-fried potato product of generic provenance and a few white seedless grapes; a snack to eat as they watch Top Chef or the Food Network, maybe read an article from the final issue of Gourmet?
~ Stephen

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