What is a Catawba Grape?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 17 May 2020
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The Catawba grape is a grape cultivar developed in North America. It is primarily used commercially and consequently is rarely encountered in grocery stores or farmers' markets, although sometimes it can be obtained by special order. A wide variety of products made with this grape can be found on the shelves at the store, although they may not be explicitly labeled as containing Catawba grapes.

This grape cultivar was bred in the 1800s by John Adlum, a noted early North American viticulturalist. It is named for the Catawba River in North Carolina and is believed to be a hybrid of some wild grape varietals. When the Catawba grape was introduced to American farmers, it quickly became very popular along the East Coast of the United States, where it continues to be widely grown in regions with the right climate. These grapes tend to prefer hardiness zones between seven and 10 on the USDA scale.

Catawba grapes are red grapes that tend to be large, firm, heavy, and very sweet. The high juice content and sweetness make them highly suitable for juices and wines. Some wineries make sweet wine varietals with Catawba grapes and the grapes may also be used to add sweetness to juice and wine blends. Wines are usually labeled with the grapes they contain, while juices may not be, as wine consumers attach more importance to the grape cultivars used in their drinks.

Grape jellies, jams, and other preserves can also be made with Catawba grapes. The natural sweetness makes them an ideal candidate and some companies may add these grapes to other fruit preserves as a sweet filler, since they tend to be less expensive than some other fruits. While there is no reason these grapes cannot be eaten as table grapes, this usage is relatively rare because most of the Catawba grape harvest is purchased commercially, leaving few to trickle down to consumers.

People can grow their own Catawba grapes. In addition to providing a source of food, they can also be excellent for shade in the garden if trained on an arbor, and they grow quickly. These grapes require full sun, rich soil, and medium water. If they are well cared for, the vines can last 50 years or more. Nurseries can order Catawba grape seedlings by request. It is advisable to plan carefully when planting because once the grapes are established, they should not be moved. People who think that they might be planning additions to their homes or new layouts for their gardens should take care to place a Catawba grape planting in an out-of-the-way area.

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