A good crop of muscadines appeared to be on the way this spring in North and South Carolina.
Though the crop started slightly late, and there was still a slim chance of late frost, Greg Hyman, owner of Hyman Vineyards in Conway, S.C., was very optimistic.
“When spring finally came, it stayed, and our fruit came out fighting,” he said. “Now the grapes are growing like weeds. It looks good.”
Ron Taylor, owner of Lu Mil Vineyard in Dublin, N.C., said the muscadine crop was “beautiful” in eastern North Carolina.
“I would say it is a little later than normal, but that may turn out to be beneficial in one respect: We have missed the zone of late frost. Bloom should take place in late May.”
The relatively high temperatures of winter and early spring may have helped, said North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.
“We have seen all the pollen the warm temperatures brought about (this year) but those warm temperatures helped fruit get off to a good start,” he said. “Also, we didn’t have the real hard late frosts and freezes we sometimes get.”
Farmers were beginning fungicide applications in late April. In Taylor’s area, manzate was being used because of an unusual disease problem.
“Black rot was detected in muscadines in eastern North Carolina for the first time ever, and manzate gives better control,” Taylor said. “It’s not new, but it’s a different fungicide than what grape growers have been using. It gives good results, but is expensive.”
The typical muscadine spray program is Captan alternated with Nova, said Connie Fisk, North Carolina Extension Associate. “For ripe rot, there are also some strobilurin fungicides.”
Fisk agreed that North Carolina muscadines looked good.
“There’s been no damage from anything yet, and progress so far seems on schedule,” she said. “This could be a good year.”
The price situation for muscadines for wine is not good, however. “Farmers are just getting by on what they are paid by the wineries,” said Fisk. “The wineries can just charge so much because consumers expect muscadine wines to be inexpensive.”
The markets for all the processed muscadine products, like wines, juices, jam and jellies, are filled for now, said Taylor. But there is a fairly new market — fresh market muscadines — and the potential for it has not even been scratched yet.
It is the fastest growing segment in muscadine marketing, according to the North Carolina Extension Service.
Farmers’ markets, roadside stands or grocery stores are often good choices for fresh market muscadines. Pick-your-own is also a possible marketing strategy, especially in areas where consumers are familiar with muscadines.
But a market area for muscadines with some promise is nutraceuticals: Dietary supplements, skin creams, juices, jams and jellies that provide medical or health benefits, including the prevention and/or treatment of disease.
They are generally made from what is left over when muscadines are processed, which amounts to about 40 percent of the grape.
This market isn’t new, but it is growing. “We have three companies in North Carolina that use either dried muscadine skins or seeds,” said Fisk.
Hyman said his company is pursuing nutraceutical uses for his grapes.
For now, he expects to sell them mainly at the “General Store” he has built at the edge of the vineyard.
“We have a way to go until we get ‘commercial’ in nutraceuticals, but we are moving in that direction,” he said.
For now, he is selling a number of nutraceutical muscadine products, including juices, ciders, soaps and cosmetics, all of which feature the healthful components of muscadine.
“The dietary supplements are in capsule form,” said Hyman. “But we are working on a concentrated liquid form we think may appeal to the consumer.”
Taylor said muscadine production is growing slightly, but only to the extent the current market will support. But he thinks nutraceuticals could lead to considerable growth in muscadine production in the Carolinas, and that could have an effect on the industry. Already, demand for pomace is skewing the traditional value set on muscadines.
“At some point there will have to be a balance between the value of juice and pomace,” said Taylor. “For now, there is a greater leaning to the non-liquid uses of muscadines.”