Grapes are one of the most-loved fruits of the world. For many years, grape breeders have been crossing varieties of grapes to make new varieties. It’s a practice found in nature, and it was developed by monks in the Middle Ages: Simply put the pollen from one plant’s flower onto the female part of another plant’s flower (just as honeybees and the winds do), and if the plants are similar enough genetically, the genes will combine to make a fertile seed of a unique and new variety.
Many new varieties are not improvements, but some are exciting grapes that deliver such advantages as better flavor, earlier ripening, and more cold tolerance. Epona vineyard contains modern varieties of grapes whose histories stretch from the 1800s to today. Modern grapes present a valuable advantage over classic winegrapes: Higher disease resistance. Most vinifera vineyards (like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon) need to be sprayed frequently, due to their extreme susceptibility to fungal diseases. Inorganic sprays poison the soil and injure vineyard workers, and organic sprays are expensive. Both require use of tractor fuel and labor.
In the Epona vineyard (on steep south-facing slope with good ventilation by the winds), the grapevines require no spray at all, ever. This saves on labor, fuel, and time in the vineyard, and it avoids the loss of beneficial insects and animals killed by inorganic sprays. Other advantages of modern varieties of grapes are earlier ripening, no need to net the fruit, and the ability to grow locally instead of importing fruit from over the mountains. They are more “green” than classic vinifera varieties.