Ask Wine Wizard

Vinifera in Florida?


Ron Caiazza — Palm Coast, Florida asks,

Last spring we were in a local club store in Northeastern Florida where we live and were astonished to see vinifera vines for saIe. I don’t recall the exact varietals but am sure there were several red and white vines being offered. I have read that vinifera grapes do not do well in Florida for a variety of reasons – but we have an enclosed (in screen) courtyard area with an arbor and would love to train the vines over the arbor. If they offer the vines for sale again this year, do you think it would be reasonable to buy them?


I would be very cautious (or at least very realistic) about buying Vitis vinifera vines for your Florida vineyard. Most states in the country have their own burgeoning vineyard and winery region but there is a reason America’s “wine country” flourishes in places like Napa, California, and not Naples, Florida. It can be summed up in one word: disease. The steamy, humid and warm climate of most parts of Florida ensures that if you do buy some vinifera vines, you will be spending a great deal of time, and probably money, fighting off bacterial, fungal and insect problems. Powdery mildew, downy mildew, and especially Pierce’s Disease all wreak havoc on the vinifera grapes, which are just not resistant to that kind of pathological pressure.

You could give some Chardonnay or Cabernet a try, but why not plant something you know will flourish, especially since it seems your main aim is ornamental? In Florida, your native “Muscadine” type grapes (Vitis rotundifolia, sometimes called “Scuppernong”) do very well and are easy to obtain at local nurseries. The fruit is edible, so it can be used for the table, in jellies or in winemaking, though the flavor profile is what some would call “tropical” — tasting of ripe mango according to one description. Carlos, Pollyanna, Florida Fry, and Southern Home are all cultivars to try. If a straight-up muscadine is not your cup of tea and you want something that behaves a bit more like a traditional vinifera wine grape, you could also try some hybrid grapes, like Conquistador, Black Spanish, or Lake Emerald. Conquistador, for example, is a red bunch grape that is self-fertile (like a vinifera), and is Pierce’s Disease-resistant.

There are lots of resources in Florida for grapevine enthusiasts. Check out the University of Florida’s Mid- Florida Research and Education Center website at www.mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/grapes/grape-resources.asp, which is a great first step. Also visit the Florida Grape Grower’s Association at fgga.org. Both sites are extensive portals into the world of southern viticulture.

I recommend that you do some research before deciding to commit to a Vitis vinifera vine that likely will not give you the satisfaction you are looking for. I wager that a native or hybrid grape will do a much better job of beautifully growing over your arbor than a weak, struggling and disease-ridden vinifera attempt.

Response by Alison Crowe.