UF/IFAS Scientists Finding Grapes to Grow in Florida

Jim Rogers Florida, Grapes, Research

Florida farmers and other businesspeople are bubbling with enthusiasm to make wine.

Ali Sarkhosh, UF/IFAS assistant professor of horticultural sciences, examines grapes in a field to see how well they grow in Florida’s climate. Photo courtesy of Ali Sarkhosh.

There are about 40 wineries around Florida. As of 2017, growers in the Sunshine State were producing more than 1,500 acres of muscadine grapes. That’s a 74% increase in 10 years, and producers will be harvesting in July and August.

To meet the increasing market for Florida-grown grapes, Ali Sarkhosh, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) assistant professor of horticultural sciences, tries to grow varieties bred by scientists at Florida A&M University, the University of Georgia and the University of California (U-C), Davis.

Ali Sarkhosh

Sarkhosh conducts his grape research at the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit (PSREU) in Citra.

“Florida’s mild winter climate and early spring season offer unique opportunities for early-season, fresh-market muscadines, a few weeks ahead of Georgia and North Carolina,” Sarkhosh said.

Farmers in those two states grow muscadine grapes and sell them from August to October.

“We are evaluating the performance of newly bred muscadine grapes — developed by the University of Georgia — to generate practical information on their productivity, berry quality and suitability for the Florida production window,” Sarkhosh said.

As with any crop, UF/IFAS scientists must protect against pathogens. Pierce’s disease presents the primary enemy for growing muscadine grapes in Florida, due mainly to the warm, humid climate.

Sarkhosh started a research trial in June 2021 to evaluate the performance of UC-Davis cultivars to see if they tolerate Pierce’s disease pressure in Florida’s climate. Results remain incomplete on that trial.

“We also have a block of Chenin blanc, a white wine grape variety, for our research on cultural production optimization,” Sarkhosh said.

UF/IFAS will host its fourth annual grape field day on August 18 at the PSREU.

Sarkhosh will present some of his grape-growing data at a walk-and-talk at the PSREU research field.

Andrew MacIntosh, an assistant professor of food science, will also show participants how to make wine.

“This will be a quick demonstration of winemaking, accompanied by the theory of fermentation,” MacIntosh said of his workshop. “The goal is to dispel myths and to answer any questions participants may have concerning the winemaking process.”

The deadline to register for the Grape Field Day is Aug. 12.