The muscadine grape is known as America’s first grape. It is not clear how long muscadine grapes have been growing in the land now known as the United States. What we do know is that they were a part of the Native American diet in the southern US. These grapes were sometimes referred to as “possum grapes”, and were used in many Native American recipes such as Cherokee dumplings.
The first known written account of the muscadine grape was by explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524 while exploring the Cape Fear coastal region of what is now North Carolina. He wrote that he saw many vine growing naturally that without doubt would yield excellent wines.
Later, in 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh’s explorer, Captain Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, wrote that the coast of North Carolina was so full of grapes that the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed with them. In 1585, Governor Ralph Lane stated in describing North Carolina to Sir Walter Raleigh that, “We have discovered . . . grapes of such greatness, yet wild, as France, Spain, not Italy hath no greater…” Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony is credited with discovering the famed “mother-vine” on Roanoke Island. This vine, which still exists today, has a truck 2 feet thick and covers half an acre.
The muscadine grape has had many names over the years. The early settlers simple called them the “Big White Grape.” During the 17th and 18th centuries, cuttings were placed around a small town called Scuppernong in Washington County, North Carolina. The North Carolina Wine and Grape Council reports that, “James Blount of the town of Scuppernong took the census of Washington County in 1810 and reported 1,368 gallons of wine made there”. A report in the Star newspaper, by Dr. Calvin Jones, dated January 11, 1811 commented on Blount’s report and was the first written record of the grape referred to as the Scuppernong grape. Eight years later in 1819, Nathaniel Macon, a member of congress, sent samples of Scuppernong wine to Thomas Jefferson.” It is no wonder that North Carolina has proclaimed the muscadine grape as its state fruit, and is considered to be the home of America’s first cultivated “white grape”.