Wild Muscadine Grapes: The Rich American History Of Muscadine Grapes

By Amy Grant | July 4, 2019
Image by LCBallard
by Amy Grant
July 4, 2019

France can have its Cabernet and Petit Verdot, but here in the U.S.A. we have our own grapes, wild muscadine grapes. Muscadine grape history is rich in this region. Native to the Southeastern United States, wild muscadine grapes (Vitus rotundifolia) have been utilized for over 400 years, first by Native Americans and then by emigrating settlers. While they may not have the same pedigree as their French cousins, muscadine grapes have their own place in history.

History of Muscadine Grapes

Native Americans dried wild muscadine grapes long before European explorers discovered the continent. They used the grapes not only as a food source but also as a source of blue dye. More recently, muscadine grapes have made their way into pies and jellies and the ubiquitous Southern favorite muscadine wine.

Enter the early English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, who in 1584 marveled at the cornucopia of abundance, with muscadine vines growing on everything from the sand to the hills and on the plains and even up into the towering cedars.

Wild muscadine grapes are also known as Southern fox grapes or, my favorite, scuppernongs – just because it’s fun to say. My entertainment aside, the grape was named ‘Scuppernong’ after the area in which it was discovered by Isaac Alexander of North Carolina, who originally dubbed this bronze variety ‘Big White Grape.’ I guess he needed a catchier name.

Additional Information about Wild Muscadine Grapes

As time passed, the name ‘Scuppernong’ became synonymous with all muscadine grapes. This is actually a fallacy in that scuppernong is only one of a number of cultivars. Dark fruited muscadines are more reliably referred to as Bullis and its variations such as Bullace, Bullet grape, or Bull Grape.

While ‘Scuppernong’ bronze and ‘Thomas’ black are the most recognizable of the cultivars, 100 years of breeding has yielded new and improved varieties such as Carlos, Doreen, Magnolia, Nesbitt, Noble and Regale, all of which are self-fruitful. Other cultivars such as Fry, Higgins, the aforementioned Scuppernong, and Jumbo require a partner for pollination.

Muscadine wine may become more popular outside of the American South. More than 400 years after English explorers lauded the prolific vines, muscadine grapes are in the news as one of the newest health foods. Scientists with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service have noted that the muscadine grape contains large quantities of resveratrol. Resveratrol has been noted in both French red and white wines and is touted as being able to lower cholesterol and the incidence of coronary heart disease. Cheers to that!

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  • Linda Smith
    Comment added August 18, 2022Reply

    Duplin Wines is the place to go for all kinds of Muscadine and Scuppernong wines. It's in the heart of southeastern North Carolina where Sir Walter Raleigh had this lovely native American grape brought to his attention by the local Native tribes. Here's the link: https://www.duplinwinery.com/join-wine-club

  • Amy
    Comment added May 15, 2022Reply

    Muscadine is growing in my backyard. The baby grapes, which I know will not be ready until August, are green, not red. How do I know what type I have? Any recommendations on what to do with them? If they are not sweet enough to eat, can I cross them with another cultivar?

  • paul
    Comment added July 10, 2019Reply

    How delightful to find someone who knows what a Bulli is, and thanks for the knowledgeable article.

  • Michel
    Comment added July 7, 2019Reply

    Very informative where do you find those grapes and what are the wines

    • Amy
      Comment added May 15, 2022Reply

      Lakeridge Winery in Lady Lake, Florida is a very large winery that makes wine from muscadine. They also have a store in St. Augstine, Florida, though it's under a different name.

  • Gayenell M Walker
    Comment added July 6, 2019Reply

    Is this the same grape that we in Texas call Mustang grapes. They get dark purple when ready to eat but the skins burn your lips so we didn't eat the skins. They make delicious jelly too.

    • JC
      Comment added November 1, 2020Reply

      Don’t eat the seeds, that’s where the bitter flavor comes from.

  • jor
    Comment added July 5, 2019Reply

    this is a test comment to see if your system works

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