Muscat Love

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Diamond Muscat Seedless Table Grape
If you've come here expecting a little Captain and Tennille action, you're going to be sadly disappointed. If you have absolutely no idea of what I'm talking about -- congratulations on that thing called "youth." Enjoy it while you can. If you are old enough to remember the good Captain and his partner, Toni Tennille, welcome to Geezerdom. We've been waiting for you to arrive. Bedpans are to your left.

I write today, not about Muskrats, but rather Muscats. What's the difference? One is an animal -- the other is a grape. Captain and Tennille wrote and sang about Muskrats, not Muscats. I'm here to sing (croon actually) about Muscats. And Muscats just happen to be growing in my backyard. It is called the Diamond Muscat, pictured above right, and is now literally ripe for the picking in the Bird Back 40.

Monster Table Grape Vines-Bird Back 40
It is also probably the most unique kind of table grape that I planted some four years ago in the Backyard of Bird. Most table grapes are sweet -- some more so than others. Indeed -- the higher the brix content -- the more desirable the grape. The Diamond Muscat is sweet -- no doubt about it -- but also offers a different kind of taste not found in most table grapes. While I'm not a big fan of wine (how can I like grapes but not like wine?), there is that subtle hint of wine grape in every bite of a Diamond Muscat. This is one special table grape.

How special? I'm so very glad you asked. According to our good friends at the University of California Integrated Viticulture website: "Diamond Muscat was released by the USDA Agricultural Research Service in 2000 as an early season white seedless with muscat flavor. The muscat flavor is pleasant and mild though it is more intense than that of ‘Summer Muscat’. It has the potential for wine or concentrate production..."

Fantasy Seedless Table Grape Cluster
It's also one good tasting table grape -- and may soon be offered through the Bird Back 40 Kitchens as a grape jelly, grape soda, grape snowcone, grape.... you get the idea.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, it happens to be one of five or six varieties of table grapes that have suddenly ripened, weeks before they were supposed to ripen. This has been one strange summer in terms of weather patterns. The early onset of summer heat brought on a bountiful stone fruit crop -- and also paid the same dividends when it comes to table grapes it appears. The nine varieties that I have planted in the Bird Back 40 are not all designed to ripen at once. That would be a grape disaster instead of grape season.

But, obviously, this year Mother Nature had something else planned entirely.

Fantasy Table Grapes (partial harvest)
That big batch of blue table grapes pictured upper right (and immediate left), for example? That is the Fantasy Table Grape. As I write this, Fantasy Table Grape season has come and gone as we juiced the last of a 50 lb. harvest just last night. Instead of 50 lbs. of Fantasy Table Grapes, the wife that is Venus and I have about three gallons of fresh, pure, 100 percent fresh-squeezed Fantasy table grape juice.

Thank goodness the wife had the right mind to fire up that Jack Lalanne juicer.

What a Cluster!
Had our neighbors and some of our friends at work not helped out by taking many pounds off our hands, I fear there would be a lot more. We should be right smack dab in the middle of Fantasy table grape season. Instead, this batch of grapes, resembling plums with some clusters, ripened up about two weeks early. Why? Other than the wacky summer weather we've had, I have no idea why. I only know that when the mockingbirds begin to raid the table grape crop? The table grape crop is ready for picking.

Venus and I installed our table grape vines in the Bird Back 40 four years ago. Though the vines produced a nice crop in the second and third years, nothing could really prepare us for what is now taking place this year. And our friends who grow grapes for a living claim we "ain't seen nothing yet." Peak production for our table grape plantings won't come for another season or three.

Freshly Squeezed Table Grape Juice
As I keep a sharp eye on the Black Monukka, Suffolk Red, Flame and other varieties of grapes, I can believe that. The Flame is probably the strangest producer of this bunch. Most table grape varieties set clusters of flowers in the spring, and those flowers eventually turn into small grapes. At that point? Small grapes grow through the summer and turn into big grapes.

But not the Flame seedless table grape. Oh sure, the Flame set clusters of flowers early in the season just like every other seedless table grape vine did. And, oh, sure, those flowers turned into small grapes. And those small grapes have since turned into big grapes. Some have even changed color!

Mockingbird Hunter "Lenny" on Patrol
But what the Flame has done throughout the summer, which other vines have not, is continue to set new clusters. The vine flowered into July -- setting new clusters every four or five days. This means some clusters are now getting ready to ripen, while others are still green and small.

Can you say: "What a Cluster?" I know! I know...

My thanks to Sacramento area gardener Carri Stokes who first set me on this table grape adventure four years ago. I owe her a table grape -- or two.