Concord – the great American grape

July 21, 2022

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Concord is the classic native red grape which flavors American cuisine from sweet, red wines, to grape juices, jams and jellies. More Concord grapes are currently raised in the U.S. than any other variety, according to the Concord Grape Association. While the father of Concord, Ephraim Wales Bull, hails from Boston, Massachusetts, this variety has deep roots in the Show Me State due in large part to Welch's Grape Co., and World War I.

Welch’s Grapelade (or grape marmalade) was invented in 1918 by Charles Welch. It was one of the first “modern” jams and a World War I ration staple. War rations increased the need for nonperishable food items such as jams and jellies. Grapelade, layered with a well-loved legume, soon spawned an American lunchtime favorite — the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This perfect combination set demand high for Concord grape production. All ages of American palates quickly adopted the sweet and savory “PB&J” as an accessible and delicious option for a snack or meal.

The demand for Concord-based products saved many vines in the St. James, Missouri area from being uprooted during Prohibition. Grapes once used to make wine were now being used to create Welch’s Grapelade. According to VisitMo.com, there are surviving pre-Prohibition vines in the St. James area as of today. These pivotal Welch’s contracts allowed many Missouri grape producers to weather Prohibition and save their vineyards.

One such vineyard, which celebrated its Centennial Anniversary in 2021, still produces Concord grapes in St. James. Many Italian immigrants, like the Tessaros, found work in this area planting, producing, harvesting and transporting Concord grapes for Welch’s Grape Co. to produce their famous juice and jelly. The Tessaro family immigrated in the late 1890s and planted their vineyard in 1921. With Prohibition enacted during the same year, the survival of this vineyard is even more of a treasure to the area and state’s history, especially when most vineyards and wineries were told to uproot their vineyards and dispose of their wines. Millions of barrels were poured out to waste. Vines like Concord, with a purpose other than making wine, were allowed to stay.

Today, Concord is still well-loved and appreciated in the St. James area. You can visit roadside stands along Interstate 44 for fresh Concord grapes each fall. Concord vines are grown on more than 112 acres in the Show Me State and account for 7% of the state's total acreage.

You can enjoy Concord’s sweet, recognizable flavor in various forms, but can best be enjoyed as a medium bodied, blue-purple wine. This fruit forward wine pairs well with summer favorites from barbecue to ice cream, making it the perfect wine to sip during summer (especially in the Midwest.) Cheers to the history of how these vines survived, with both history and vine roots that still run deep across the United States. Concord is truly the great American grape.