This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
My remarks upon the value of native Grapes, at a meeting of the Brooklyn Horticultural Society, have been made the subject of comments in various journals, which may seem to call upon me for some reply. If the reports of my remarks had been fair, or correct, I would permit the case to rest upon the argument as it was offered, being well assured that the positions assumed were sound and just. But the chief reports (except the first in the Horticulturist) were evidently prepared with a deliberate design to misrepresent and ridicule me; and hence I feel inclined to offer a brief statement of what I did say. Stripping the matter of many words, the following is an abstract of the remarks in question:
Being called upon to give some information respecting the state of native Grape culture at Philadelphia, I stated that there had been but little success here in this branch of pomology on any thing like an extended scale, either in respect to the gratification to be obtained from eating Grapes, or in pecuniary profit. I told the audience that there had been some native Grapes produced in city yards, and on arbors and trellises in the outskirts of the city, of tolerably good quality; but no encouraging success in vineyard culture, either for table use or wine.
I alluded to the fact that there had been a great excitement produced in the public mind by the exaggerated statements of the dealers in Grape vines, who had asserted that it would pay to invest $4,000 in the preparation and planting of an acre of vineyard for market purposes; and that from $500 to $1,500 per annum could be produced from an acre.
In reply to these assertions, I stated that, so far as Philadelphia was concerned, there was not now, and never had been, an acre of native Grapes in the vicinity of the city which had proved profitable to the grower. I gave the details of the case of John Farnum, Esq., of Bustleton, near Philadelphia, who, seven years ago, planted eight or ten acres of Isabella and Catawba vines, purchased of a famous New York vineyardist, and managed by one of his vine dressers, which had proved an utter failure, making a loss of $10,000 for the owner, to say nothing of time and annoyance. This vineyard, I am assured by the gardener on the place, never paid tending, and has been nearly all dug up as worthless. Mr. Farnum is a gentleman of intelligence, and has a foreign Grape house about two hundred feet long, which annually produces from six hundred to one thousand pounds or more of Black Hamburghs, and other kinds, equal, in point of size, color, and flavor, to any grapes sold in Philadelphia. The failure of the natives, therefore, in this case, was not owing to want of skill in Grape culture.
I then stated, what I still believe, that the sum required to prepare, plant, and trellis an acre of native vines, and tend them till they come into bearing, would build a lean-to vinery one hundred feet long, which would produce a crop of fruit more speedily and certainly, and of far greater value than the crop of an acre of natives, either for market purposes or for table use. Seven hundred dollars will build such a house, and I leave the reader (as I did the hearer) to estimate the cost of an acre of vineyard, but I am well satisfied that it will cost more than seven hundred dollars, if done upon the plan most commonly advised.
I instanced the case of my own vineyard, of nearly an acre, now three summers planted, which has not produced a pound of native Grapes, the early shoots being all killed by the frost last May, while my Grape house, which cost no more money, in fifteen months after planting, produced three or four hundred pounds of delicious Frontignans, Muscats, and Hamburghs, giving us almost daily a dessert of the finest Grapes for upwards of three months, (from July till October,) and worth, in good times, from fifty to seventy-five cents per pound. This house, I expect, next year, will produce six or eight hundred pounds of Grapes - probably more.
I stated the general objections to the native Grapes as follows:
1st. We have no native Grapes, except the Delaware, which can at all compare with the foreign kinds, and the Delaware is too small to give a good weight of crop. The Isabella is generally a very poor, watery Grape; the Catawba, though good when ripe, does not generally mature here; the Diana is very good, but ripens imperfectly; the Concord is a very coarse, common Grape; and the rest have no merits which really render them worthy of extended vineyard culture.
2d. The crop of native Grapes, at Philadelphia, is very uncertain, on account of frosts killing the young shoots and destroying the fruit, and other causes.
The buds and foliage are destroyed by vine beetles.
The foliage and fruit are often ruined by mildew.
The fruit is destroyed by "rot".
3d. The crop, when obtained, is of small value for market purposes, or other use, and unsalable at any paying price. The usual price of common native Grapes raised in the immediate vicinity of Philadelphia, is from six to eight and ten cents per pound at retail. The best quality may occasionally bring twelve and fifteen cents. The best Catawbas sold here come from Ohio; and selected fruit, in the regular season, sells at fifteen and eighteen cents per pound. The vineyard grower can not, in many instances, act as retailer, and hence the price (by wholesale) must be much below the above figures, as the crop is perishable and the market dull. The fruit dealers all declare that there is no money to be made by selling native Grapes, because the margin of profit is small, and the sales dull and uncertain. The truth is, people don't want the native Grapes, in any large quantities, at any price. A housekeeper who thinks nothing of buying twenty-five to a hundred quarts of Strawberries, Raspberries, and Blackberries in a season, for eating fresh and for preserving, would not purchase five pounds of common native Grapes at six cents a pound.