The red grape variety originates from the USA; it is named after the river of the same name in North Carolina or Sioux Indian tribe. Synonyms are Arkansas, Catalan, Catalan Rojo, Catalan Roxo, Catawba Rosa, Cher Kee, Cherokee, Fanches, Francher, Francher Kello White, Francher Kells White, Lebanon, Lebanon Seedling, Lichigan, Lincoln, Mammoth Catawba, Meads Seedling, Mecleron, Merceron, Michigan, Muncy, Muncy Pale Red, Munipale Red, Omega, Red Muncy, Rose of Tennessee, Red Captraube, Saratoga, Singleton, Tekomah, Tokay and Virginia Amber. Along with Concord, Norton and Scuppernong, it is one of the most important American vines. The botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954) called the Catawba grape "the first great American grape".
The origin of the variety was unclear for a long time and there were several partly contradictory assumptions. Parenthood was not determined until 2016 at the Julius Kühn Institute (Geilweilerhof) by DNA analysis. The variety originates from a cross between a wild Vitis labrusca (which was always suspected to be the parent) x Sémillon. It may also be a deliberate cross. Furthermore it turned out that Catawba is a parent of the famous Concord. Catawba was also a crossbreeding partner of the new breed Woodruff. The varieties Catawba White, Diana (3) and To Kalon are open flowered seedlings.
In 1801, the innkeeper Samuel Murray (1739-1817) discovered some wild vines near Ashville in North Carolina. Some cuttings came into the possession of Senator General Davy in 1807, who planted them on his property in Rocky Mount near the Catawba River and named them first Tokay and later after the river. He sent a few copies to friends in the state of Maryland. Some of them came into the possession of the land surveyor Major John Adlum (1759-1836). Adlum planted them in 1820 on his vineyard "The Vineyard" in Georgestown (in the Washington, DC district) and produced the first wine two years later. In 1823 Adlum sent a bottle of wine to former US President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who expressed his gratitude in a letter of thanks.
Finally, in 1825, attorney Nicholas Longworth (1783-1863) received Catawba cuttings from Adlum and cultivated them extensively on his lands near Cincinnati on the Ohio River in the state of Ohio. By 1842, 480 hectares had already been planted. Longworth produced the first American sparkling wine "Sparkling Catawba" and became the first major commercial US wine producer. Catawba wine was even successfully exported to Europe. The author Henry Longfellow (1807-1882) praised the wine in a ballad in 1854. But the American Civil War (1861-1865), vine diseases and finally Longworth's death put an end to these first successes.
The very late-maturing, high-yielding and frost hardy vine is susceptible to black rot and both types of mildew. It produces acidic wines with a subtle Foxton. However, it is mainly used as a table grape and for sparkling wine, jelly and grape juice. It was the first successful grape variety in the USA long before the famous Concord. Due to the disadvantage of not being able to produce high-quality dry wines, it experienced a decline. The variety is common to all in the state of New York (480 ha). There are other vineyards in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri (38 ha), Pennsylvania (68 ha) and Tennessee. In 2010, a total of 633 hectares were recorded in the USA (Kym Anderson).
Source: Wine Grapes / J. Robinson, J. Harding, J. Vouillamoz / Penguin Books Ltd. 2012
Pictures: Ursula Brühl, Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn Institute (JKI)