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.
Mr. M. Walthall, Jr., of Stockton, Cal., writes us to know the name of a Grape which is almost the only one grown there. He says, "The wood is vigorous, short-jointed, and light yellowish in color. Leaves - light green, smooth underneath, with large red veins, and in form resembles the drawing of the White Grape Currant in the January number of the Horticulturist. Bunches - large, long, and loose, slightly shouldered. Berries - perfectly round, black when ripe, except when shaded they are whitish. Skin - thin, little or no pulp, juicy, and sweet What is it?" Undoubtedly some European Grape that has been carried there; what it is we cannot say.
We must see about this. There are, no doubt, good native grapes in California; and when other subjects than gold seeking, and speculation, creep into the brains of her people, I have little doubt that the soil and climate of that wide belt of Pacific territory, will yield us both grapes and wine, of a character not yet produced in the Ohio valleys, and perhaps of equal quality and like flavor to the best of European wines.
It is nowise certain, however, that any grape from California will prove the same identical fruit, if transplanted here, and subjected to the influences of our widely different climate and soils. An indigenous production of any kind, of good quality in its native soil, and matured under the influences of its own sun and air, will not always develop its fine peculiar qualities in other soils, and under sunshine less propitious. We witness that in many familiar fruits in our own localities, but a short distance apart, and in nothing more striking than in the European grapes subjected to out-door culture here. Still, I would not discourage the transfer of a really good grape from California into our soils. Something good may come out of it; and when the thing can be so cheaply tried, it would be a matter of public interest that it should be done in a thorough way.
It is conceded by all agricultural societies, as well as by all others interested in the cultivation of the grape for the manufacture of wine, that there is really no suitable and productive wine grape, either foreign or native, to be found in the Atlantic States. Here in California, where the climate and soil are so unexceptionably adapted to the culture of the grape, native and foreign grapes have been tried, without finding one that can merit extensive cultivation. I myself have imported various sorts from the climate of Paris, in the hope that coming from a colder district, they might succeed better than others that have been imported from the southern parts of France, but with no better success.
There is a wild grape in California that is not, perhaps, worth cultivation. The grape in general cultivation is a Spanish grape, resembling very much the Madeira, first introduced into Mexico by the early Mission Fathers, and from thence to the Californias, (after a thousand trials, perhaps.) It is probably the most productive bearer in the world, the most delicious desert grape, and at the same time has all the fine qualities necessary for making a first class wine. There is no doubt that, in honest and skilful hands, it will make excellent Champagne: it has abundance of saccharine matter which gives body, a primary requisite for making sparkling wines: it is what the Catawba lacks.
An abortive attempt at making Champagne out of California wine has been made in San Francisco, which utterly failed as soon as they commenced making it out of new wine in the first year not sufficiently fermented. It takes three years to make good Champagne; any thing short of this induces the factitious necessity of impregnating it with carbonic acid gas, etc.; such lame attempts are well calculated to bring discredit upon a wine not fairly started. It is a business that requires a heavy capital to keep several crops on hand until the wine is truly ripe.
Now what I want to come at is this: I am advised from different parts of the Southern States that the California grape has been tried there, and found to succeed far better than any other in cultivation; and I can not see any good reason to the contrary, judging by analogy, since none of the sorts in use in the Atlantic States, or the continent of Europe, succeed in California, except the Spanish grape already alluded to; therefore it is quite probable that the California grape may succeed in all the Atlantic slope immeasurably better than any that has been tried; or, in other words, succeed as it does in California. If this is so, and I am assured that it is, it will be a great boon to wine-growers, and a source of great wealth to the country. No branch of agriculture is half so productive as grape-growing, when well started, and none that requires less labor.
For surely the difference is very great between making an average of 200 gallons to the acre, the vines being planted three feet by five, etc, as in Ohio, Missouri, and other places, and 1200 gallons to the acre, as in California, the vines being planted six feet each way, pruned low, without stakes or scaffolding, and cultivated with ease by the plow.
As I said before, if it be true that the California grape will succeed immensely better than any other in cultivation, it- is a matter of the highest national importance. I believe that it is so, and in proof, I have now on hands orders for 80 or 90,000 grape plants and cuttings from various points of Southern States and the Patent Office.
[We are by no means willing to concede that there is no "suitable and productive wine grape to be found in the Atlantic States." On the contrary, we are quite prepared to take the affirmative on this question, and to prove that we have several good wine grapes, such as Delaware, Lincoln, Herbe-mont, and Diana. We nave letters from Messrs. Schnicke, Mottier, and others on this subject, which we shall soon publish. The Delaware makes a wine which will compare very favorably with the Hermitage. We think you made somewhat of a mistake in importing vines from the climate of Paris to make wine from in California; we should hardly have gone there; but we think you will yet find a native quite suited to your purpose. In regard to the Los Angeles grape, to which we suppose you refer under the name of the California grape, we tried it here in the vicinity of New York some five years since, but succeeded very ill with it, since it was almost sure to be winter killed to the ground. In some portions of the South, however, it has been tried, and our friends there speak well of it. It is no doubt worthy of a further trial in that region of country, to which it would seem to be well adapted and we think little risk would be ran in planting it.
We should be glad to have Mr. Kellar give us a minute description of the grape, as it grows in California. - Ed].