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November 18, 2006

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?

Zehnder: Yeah.

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.

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At 2/20/2009 10:44:00 PM, Anonymous Guy T. Valentine said...

NC 6-15
I have been growing the muscadine and producing wine from muscadines for several years, I have never seen anything on the hybrid NC 6-15. I would really like to take a look-see at this plant and try to grow a few. My area of the Southeast is nothing but Muscadine country. I have tried several bunch grape hybrids with relatively little luck. I have found that if PD didn't get the plant something along the line of mildews, bunch-rot, or classic cordon arm die-back would always find their ways into anything but the muscadine. Muscadines, in my area tolerate drought, cold, most pest and therefore require little spray. However, the thought of growing something other than the muscadine intrigues me.

At 2/21/2009 12:53:00 AM, Blogger Evil Fruit Lord said...

The only commercially available bunch grape/muscadine hybrid I know of is 'Southern Home'. I rather like 'Southern Home'...the fruit is somewhat more grape-like than a typical muscadine, and the foliage is really attractive (though it seems to get confused about what season it is, with parts of the vine going dormant independently). There are a number of other bunch grape/muscadine hybrids available through the germplasm repository in Davis, CA, though FLA P9-15 is not among them. They do, however, have NC 6-15, as well as NC B4-50, although I wouldn't bet on any of them setting much fruit, especially without a pollen source. They also have an assortment Davis vinifera x muscadine hybrids, denoted only with DVIT numbers and virtually no description.

At 2/21/2009 12:57:00 AM, Blogger Evil Fruit Lord said...

Have you tried some of the bunch grape cultivars from the old UF program? They're not perfect, but they're definitely better adapted than most for the southeast. I grew 'Blanc du Bois' without difficulty in north Florida...

At 3/06/2010 03:18:00 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

I guess I should buy this book to see if the answer to my question is there, but it's easier to ask you: has anyone bred that yummy tropical muscadine flavor into a grape that's hardy up here in zone 5? I get the impression that breeders are just trying to loot disease resistance genes from muscadines, and they're leaving that wonderfully exotic flavor behind.

mijwiz at yahoo dot com

At 3/06/2010 08:12:00 PM, Blogger Evil Fruit Lord said...

I don't know of anything that'd have a prayer in zone 5, unfortunately. The bulk of the breeding has been done in the interest of adaptation to the southeast, and so the efforts have been focused on disease resistance, especially Pierce's Disease, which is a particular problem for the south and not and issue at all in cold areas.

There are bunch grapes that loosely approximate the muscadine flavor, but nothing real close, and certainly nothing with that leathery skin...

At 3/12/2010 01:35:00 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

Thanks. So what bunch grapes approximate that muscadine flavor? The leathery skin is optional.

I guess I shouldn't complain, since I'm already growing grapes with a muscat and a labrusca flavor, so it's not like I lack flavorful grapes up here.


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