This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
I have a strong impression that, if this Grape was to receive special treatment, the fatal spot which affects it would to a great extent disappear. It is a Grape that wants time to grow and ripen, and a dry atmosphere. We have it here, grafted on Black Hamburg, in two different houses. In one house, which has been subjected to a good deal of hard forcing for the last two years to get the crop in at a desired time, the Golden Champion is simply unpresentable. In another early vinery, which is thrown open day and night as soon as the Hambros and others begin to get ripe, by which time the Champion is generally still green, it has always finished well. This season a bunch in this house was allowed to hang a month or five weeks after it was quite ripe, and when cut it was still plump and without a blemish. It is such a magnificent Grape when dished up, if free from specks, that one is to be excused if they fall freshly in love with it, and resolve to keep it on and give it another trial. So far as my experience goes, I should think it is a Grape which wants no more assistance in the way of fire-heat or forcing than will just enable it to ripen during the most favourable part of the season.
Those who have facilities I would recommend to try what the result would be if allowed to come away naturally about April or May, keeping the ventilators always open, except in wet weather, and in fact giving it little more than the protection of glass, using fire-heat chiefly to dispel damp. This plan has at least cheapness to recommend it; and no one will deny that it is a Grape well worth making an effort to grow successfully. Could it be presented at dessert in good form, it would put Muscats to one side for the time, not on account of its appearance only, but its flavour, which is so excellent and refreshing.
I have an impression that it would do better out-doors in the south, in a warm situation, than inside a vinery; and I hope those who have opportunities will try it on the hardy system.
No doubt the "spotting" is due to the very tender skin of the berries. The least thing injures it, and leaves a lasting blemish; and it is reasonable to suppose that a high and moist temperature will have the same effect upon the berries as upon the leaves of Vines - i. e., to make them still more tender and susceptible of injury. Thinning the berries should also be very carefully performed: it should be done twice; and great care is necessary not to injure the berries that are left with the scissors, which should be clean and smooth.
The Golden Champion, like some others of its class, does not bear so well when pruned on the close spur system. It is a good plan to leave a bit of young wood, and a better show of fruit will be the result, which will give a choice of bunches, for they vary much in the setting, some having a greater proportion of small berries than others.
[If those who grow this noble Grape will ventilate freely, and keep it dry whenever it approaches the ripening point, they will not be troubled with spot. - Ed].
It is pleasing to learn that this fine Grape is holding its own where cultivators have learned its requirements. But where there is prejudice and absence of patience with those who have attempted to grow it and have failed, this Goliath among White Grapes will be shown no quarter !
Among those who have been successful with its culture, Mr Fin-lay, gardener to Golonel North, at Wroxton Abbey, in this county, appears to be well advanced. In Mr Hibberd's report in ' The Gardener's Magazine,' of the last fine show held at Banbury, the Golden Champion excited great admiration, Mr Finlay having produced marvellously fine examples and exhibited them in his collection of fruit. All his dishes are said to have been fine, but his " Champions " out-distanced all others, and made quite a feature in the exhibition - tent. What the preventive from spotting is, it would be of great interest to learn.
Dry air circulating through the Vinery while the fruit is finishing, I can endorse as being a very important matter. Another thing worthy of attention is to secure fibry roots instead of those very fat white ones which must pump up large quantities of water into the berries; and we know that, when this is the case, there is an absence of saccharine matter, hence the non-keeping quality of the fruit. The Golden Champion is planted in two Vineries here (the borders are comparatively new, and appear to have been made by those who understood their work), and one lot of fruit ripened early in June, and were sent to London along with Foster's Seedling and Black Hambros. They were ripened when the weather was dry and warm, a current of air passing through the house night and day. The fruit all finished well, and the Champions were very large in berry, of fine colour without a spot, and they appeared as if they would have kept well. The wood was of moderate growth; the foliage large and firm. The other lot of Champions were ripened in August; the sun shining on them seldom for weeks together, and almost continued rains, seemed to be much against the quality of the fruit. These Vines were gross in wood and leaf; the berries were very large, but did not colour well.
They began to show black spots as the process of ripening went on, and shortly after they were ripe shrivelling began to appear. But the fruit were all sent to table without loss; and from the great size of the berries, and the refreshing flavour, they gave great satisfaction. The results were very different in these two Vineries, though a glass partition only separated the Vines, and there were two months between the period of their ripening. It is my intention to find the most active roots of the delinquent Champion, and place in front of them a quantity of stones and brick-rubbish rammed hard, which will cause each tapewormlike root to separate into scores of threads before they force themselves through the barrier. By this means I secured fine fruit from a Golden Hambro, which yielded plentiful supplies for a number of years, and kept quite as well as the Black Hambro.
We are too ready in casting off a Grape which will not attain perfection under the same treatment as the Black Hambro. At an extensive place a few miles from here, the gardener was to root out his Lady Downes Vines because they did not behave well in the same house where Alicants were excellent. There was, no doubt, a cause for this, though for the present it remains in obscurity. Still I would be inclined to try and find out the cause before destroying the growth of years, and intend trying a few experiments before I destroy the "Champions," so well established here before they fell into my hands. M. Temple.
I beg to offer my opinion of this Grape, it being" one I very often meet with in my travels. I cannot help thinking that the reason some people fail in its culture is owing to their not ripening it early in the season while there is plenty of sun-heat. Bipened early, it will hang until it shrivels and becomes a perfect sweetmeat. I have this season seen it doing well with Mr R. Gilbert of Burghley, and many other gardeners speak highly of it. I tasted some berries grown in the Muscat-house at Chiswick, and they were most delicious, - a remark which applies to others grown at Newark-on-Trent, Notts, and sent me by Mr W. P. Ayres. Golden Champion will always be grown for its superb appearance and excellent flavour, while the only fault its worst friends can find with it is an inclination to spot under some modes of treatment. That it is possible to grow it without spotting we know, and it deserves a place in every early Vinery. F. B. W.
[Nearly all Grapes require special treatment, and, of course, so does Golden Champion. - Ed].