The muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) is harvested as single berries unlike the bunch grape varieties native to Europe. European varieties are used to make much of the common table wines sold today. However, European bunch grapes do not grow well in Florida. The hot, humid climate makes them susceptible to a wide range of diseases. Since the muscadine is a Florida native, it is seldom affected by disease (Crocker and Mortensen, 2001).

Scientists concerned with developing hybrid bunch grapes and improving the native muscadines, have created a wider variety of wine grapes. For more than 75 years, researchers at the University of Florida have been committed to improving Florida’s grapes. This research has developed varieties that flourish in Florida's subtropical climate, well-suited to the soils and perfect for winemaking (FDACS, 2004).

Research begins in the 1930s

Viticulture was a thriving Florida industry until the 1930s, when Pierce's disease wiped out most of the grapes. Agricultural researchers at the University of Florida then began research to learn more about Pierce's disease. They discovered that the disease was a bacteria. They also began a process to determine whether a hybrid grape could be developed that would produce a fine wine and also be immune to Pierce’s disease (Eden Vineyards, 2004).

Until the late 1970s, nearly all UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences research efforts were focused on development of disease-resistant bunch grape varieties. Researchers developed varieties through hybridization of local muscadine grape species with the European table wine grape, Vitis vinifera (Table 1, Gray, 2003).

Table 1. Florida hybrid bunch grape varieties produced by the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Hybrid Bunch Grape Varieties

Date of Release

Lake Emerald


Blue Lake








Tampa Rootstock


Conquistador, Suwannee, Daytona


Orlando Seedless


Blanc du Bois


Florilush Rootstock


In the late 1970s, the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences began a muscadine breeding program. Developments of biotechnological procedures to facilitate genetic improvement of grape began in 1984 and continue today. The program is responsible for a number of pivotal technological advances for grapes and has been awarded two U.S. patents for work in genetic transformation (Table 2, Gray, 2003).

Table 2. Florida muscadine grape varieties produced by the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Muscadine Grape Varieties

Date of Release

Dixie (with NC State Univ.)






Southern Home*, Florida Fry


*Southern Home is a hybrid between bunch and muscadine grape, but it resembles muscadine.

The Future

Further research at the University of Florida suggests that muscadine grapes produce a healthier wine than traditional bunch grape varieties. There is a unique combination of antioxidants in muscadine wine that is not found in other grape varieties, and muscadine wine contains higher levels of antioxidants (Lockette, 2003).

Soon molecular genetic research will produce further improved varieties and possibly enable traditional wine grape production in Florida (Gray, 2003).

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