P9-15: The Lure of the Vine
I've often thought it might be nice to do book reviews here, since there's nothing that brings me joy like a good fruit book (okay, maybe there are a few other things). So far, though, the closest I've come was an earlier post on Wickson's California Fruit, which was as much about Wickson as it was the book.
A while back, I came across a book called P9-15: The Lure of the Vine, by Thomas DeWolf, on Amazon. I'm always excited to people writing things other than textbooks about plant breeding, and grapes have a special place in my heart, being the first fruit that I worked with. It outlines the history of attempts to interbreed muscadine grapes with bunch grapes, touching on the characters involved and the crosses made that led to the final product, a hybrid called P9-15. (DeWolf regards P9-15 as the pinnacle of this effort, although one of its offspring, 'Southern Home', was released as a cultivar by the University of Florida). Despite being members of the same genus, muscadines and bunch grapes do not easily interbreed, having differing chromosome numbers, and when they do the offspring are nearly always sterile. Only a handful of barely-fertile F1 hybrids have been created, such as NC 6-15 and B4-50, and these few key bridges have been the critical links to such efforts at interbreeding.
It's not a very big book, only 108 pages long, and it's not the best written work I've ever encountered. It's a little scattered and disorganized, and much of it could probably do with some serious editing, like the interview with Bob Zehnder, which is presented in it's entirety, complete with things like:
TBD: Are you having a problem hearing me?
TBD: Okay. I have you on my speakerphone. That's the reason...
It's from Hats Off Books, which I believe may be a self-publishing enterprise, and DeWolf's approach is that of a curious layman (I think he's a retired lawyer, but I couldn't find much), rather than an expert on grape breeding, so the result is a little unpolished, though his passion for the subject is obvious and endearing. Despite all the flaws, it's still well worth a read. It's full of facts, much of it material concerning old southern breeding programs or those of individuals like Bob Dunstan, Bob Zehnder, or Joseph Fennell, that would be very difficult to track down. Mostly, though, I'm excited to see some one telling this story. There are hundreds of these breeding stories, and they are part of why I love breeding and why I want to be part of it. Stories like the introduction of day-neutrality from wild strawberries, the development of primocane fruiting blackberries, self-fertile muscadines, or the Southern Highbush blueberry. Each of these represented a fundamental change in the way these fruits could be grown, and each was the result of a combination of luck, hard work, and the skills of several brilliant breeders. And each is its own exciting story, waiting to be told. DeWolf has told this one, and I'm grateful that he did.
This particular story is one that has really only begun. 'Southern Home' is the only cultivar to incorporate both muscadine and bunch grape germplasm, and it has really only succeeded as a backyard variety. It is also mostly muscadine in its background, while the real potential, I think, lies in incorporating a few key muscadine traits, particularly disease resistance, into bunch grapes. This process has only begun, but in recent years a gene for powdery mildew resistance, Run1, has been moved from muscadines into a bunch grape population and mapped, coming through the NC 6-15 hybrid (a cross of a muscadine (G52) and Vitis vinifera (a seedling of 'Malaga')).
Anyway, at $11.95 for just over a hundred pages, P9-15 probably isn't for everybody. But for those with a particular interest in grape breeding, especially in the south, and a willingness to look past the occasionally scattered presentation, it's an interesting read and a valuable resource.
Buy P9-15: The Lure of the Vine from Amazon.