Scientists discover grapes to grow in Florida; upcoming winemaking workshop


Florida farmers and other businessmen are bubbling with enthusiasm for making wine.

There are approximately 40 wineries in Florida. Additionally, in 2017 (the most recent year for which there is data), growers in the Sunshine State produced over 1,500 acres of Muscat grapes. That’s a 74% increase in 10 years, and growers are harvesting soon — in July and August.

To meet the growing market for Florida-grown grapes, Ali Sarkhosh, an assistant professor of horticultural science at UF/IFAS, is trying to grow varieties bred by scientists from Florida A&M University, the University of Georgia, and the University of California at Davis.

Dr. Sarkhosh conducts his research on grapes at the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra, between Gainesville and Ocala.

“Florida’s mild winter weather and early spring provide unique opportunities for early season fresh market muscadines, weeks ahead of Georgia and North Carolina,” Sarkhosh said.

Farmers in these two states grow nutmeg grapes and deliver them to supermarkets in August, September and October.

“We are evaluating the performance of newly selected muscat grapes – developed by the University of Georgia – to generate actionable insights into their productivity, berry quality, and suitability for Florida’s production window,” Sarkhosh said. .

As with any crop, UF/IFAS scientists need to protect themselves against pathogens. Pierce’s disease presents the main enemy of muscadine grape cultivation in Florida, mainly due to the hot and humid climate.

In June 2021, Sarkhosh initiated a trial to evaluate the performance of UC-Davis cultivars to see if they tolerate Pierce’s disease pressure in the Florida climate. The results remain incomplete on this trial.

“We also have a block of Chenin blanc, a white wine varietal, for our research into optimizing crop production,” Sarkhosh said.

Want to learn how to grow grapes and make wine from the fruit? Here is your chance. UF/IFAS will hold its fourth annual Grape Field Day on August 18 at the PSREU.

Mr. Sarkhosh will present some of his data on viticulture during a walk-debate on the PSREU research field. He sees a bright future for viticulture in Florida.

Also as part of the Grape Field Day activities, Andrew MacIntosh, Assistant Professor of Food Science, will show attendees how to make wine.

“It will be a quick demonstration of winemaking, complete with fermentation theory,” MacIntosh said of his workshop. “The goal is to dispel myths and answer any questions attendees may have regarding the winemaking process.”

As part of its grape research and extension program, Sarkhosh works with Florida A&M University’s Viticulture and Berry Research Center.

The deadline to register for Grape Field Day is August 12.

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Shirley M. Pinder