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New grape offers taste of Concord without the seeds

New grape offers taste of Concord without the seeds

The most popular grapes in New York are Concord grapes, having both a wonderful aroma and a great taste that make them the preferred grape for juice, jam, sweet wine and the much-hyped grape pie.

Cornell's Bruce Reisch examines a cluster of Everest Seedless grapes, a new variety bred at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva. Photo supplied by Cornell University
Cornell’s Bruce Reisch examines a cluster of Everest Seedless grapes, a new variety bred at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva. (Photo supplied by Cornell University)

When it comes to eating them fresh, though, that’s another story. Do you swallow or spit out the seeds? The pesky seeds make eating Concord grapes fresh a nonstarter for many people.

But a new variety of grape produced at Cornell AgriTech (formerly the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station) may give New York growers something new to chew on, and we’re not talking about seeds.

Cornell’s Bruce Reisch has come up with the latest in a long line of grape varieties, the Everest Seedless.  He was also the guy behind the development of Traminette, a growing darling of the wine industry, released in 1996, and the 2013 releases of newbies Arandell, a red grape, and Aromella, a white grape.

The Everest Seedless could be thought of as a seedless Concord. It has the same blue-black color and shape, the taste is similar if not quite so strong, and owing to its double batch of chromosomes – a natural variation – it’s about twice the size.

“Everest is one of the largest mountains in the world, and this is one very large grape,” Reisch said. “With its formidable ancestry and big flavor, we feel this variety can live up to its name.” Concord played a large role in Everest’s genetics.

Reisch said it took about 20 years of experimentation to develop the Everest, with many of the vines grown in the vicinity of Cornell AgriTech in Geneva.

“It takes only three or four years to get a new seedling to fruit,” Reisch said. “Then what takes so long is testing this.” Other growing sites are used to see how the grape does under different soil conditions.

All this testing is particularly important to growers who are considering trying the new variety, Reisch said. “A grower might be ready to make a 30-year investment. They want to know you have more than one or more years of data,” he said.

Dennis Rak, owner of Double A Vineyards in Fredonia, Chautauqua County, helped in the development of Everest Seedless, as he has for other Cornell varieties over the last couple of decades.

He said some of the Everest grapes were grafted onto root stock of other grape varieties—a step not normally taken with vitis labrusca grapes, like Everest, but one that’s normal with vitis vinifera grapes, such as table grapes and wine varietals from Europe. The result was the grapes were even bigger, he said, perhaps owing to the water absorption properties of the grafted rootstock.

Double A has the exclusive license for the new grape variety for the next 10 years. Currently, the only place to buy the Everest vines is through Double A.

Reisch predicts Everest Seedless will be a big hit with backyard gardeners, as well as farmers who operate produce stands and are seeking table grapes to add to their mix.  Rak agreed, saying “This one would be a really good one for them to have.”

Rak, who confesses to being a Concord seed swallower, said Everest Seedless will also be popular with “anyone who likes Concord grapes but doesn’t like the seeds. This would be a great grape for them.”

While the aim of developing Everest was to create a seedless grape for table consumption, Reisch said it might also be a labor saver for the people who make grape pies.  Its larger size and lack of seeds could reduce the time it takes to prepare a pie’s filling.

Everest Seedless grapes appear to be resistant to the cold, like most native New York grapes, and to mildew and insects.

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