Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Growing Just Gaga for Grapes Crowds Get Juiced on Muscadines

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Growing Just Gaga for Grapes Crowds Get Juiced on Muscadines

Article excerpt

In the fields behind a Fleming Island subdivision, there were

dry lectures and juicy grapes yesterday. And a crowd of people

ate up both.

Perhaps 1,000 people wandered through vineyards, nibbling on

nine varieties of grapes during the Muscadine Grape Festival in

Clay County.

"Can you hear me sloshing?" said Darrell Dyal of Kingsland,

Ga., who squeezed a belly he'd been filling with samples from

the vines at Holmes Vineyard, where the festival was held.

The event was the area's first celebrating the plump, sweet

muscadine that Southerners have plucked from backyard vines for

years.

Like Dyal, a recently retired restaurant owner, visitors came

for advice on starting their own vines, which can live as long

as 75 years and produce hundreds of pounds of fruit annually.

They also got pointers on home winemaking, canning jams and

jellies.

North Florida and South Georgia are considered prime ground for

muscadine vines. The plants wither in colder areas' winters and

don't thrive the same in central or southern Florida, either.

The grape has found only a limited market in commercial

agriculture. But its supporters can be passionate.

"I'm addicted to muscadine grapes," said Tiger Holmes Sr., a

Jacksonville lumber company owner who started his 25-acre Holmes

Vineyard in 1994. The operation is on land adjacent to Holmes'

home west of the island's Eagle Harbor development.

Holmes said he loves the grapes' sugary sweetness, and hopes

the festival will help develop a local appreciation for the

fruit. …

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