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First brief hint of fall brings muscadine season

By Dan Rahn
Georgia Extension Service

You're a true Southerner if when that first cool breeze hints of an autumn still weeks away, your mouth starts watering for muscadine grapes.

If that's true for you, or even if you're just beginning to love these uniquely Southern grapes, the season you've been waiting for is here.

"The harvest has started in south Georgia," said Gerard Krewer, a University of Georgia Extension Service horticulturist. "Growers are reporting a fair to good crop this year."

Georgia has about 1,200 acres of commercial muscadine vineyards, most for fresh-market grapes. Krewer figures at least twice that many grow in the state's backyards.

Long season

Muscadines usually begin ripening in early August in extreme south Georgia. The harvest then moves northward through the upper piedmont area, where it ends in early October.

"It's a fairly long season," he said. The sweet, mellow grapes grow everywhere in the state except in the high mountains.

The distinctive flavor of muscadines seems to hint of the years they've had to mellow. People were enjoying these Deep South natives long before the first European settlers arrived.

Over the years, UGA and other scientists have improved what nature provided. "Muscadines today are bigger than a quarter," Krewer said.

They're sweeter, too, he said, and come in a range of colors from bronze to red to purple to black. Many varieties have tender, edible skin that makes them prized as table grapes.

Favorite varieties

Among the bronzes, Fry, Summit and Tara are fresh-fruit favorites. Scuppernong and Carlos are noted for their sweet dessert wines. Many others are wonderful in cider, wines, jellies, preserves and syrups.

An important variety now, he said, is Supreme, a large, black muscadine. "Supreme is very popular with commercial growers," Krewer said. "It's become a standard in the industry."

Krewer cites studies that show muscadines are rich in dietary fiber and important minerals, low in fat and protein and high in carbohydrates. They're a better source of calcium, iron, zinc and manganese than many other fruits.

They also have significant levels of resveratrol, which lowers cholesterol and may greatly reduce the risk of heart disease, and ellagic acid, which can lower the risk of colon, lung and liver cancer.

Muscadines are among the easiest-to-grow backyard fruits, Krewer said. They're best planted when the vines are dormant in late fall to early winter. Your county Extension Service agent can tell you how to grow them.

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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