History of the Concord Grape

Growers Cooperative Grape Juice Company is headquartered in the heart of the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt, the oldest and largest Concord Grape growing region in the world! To take a virtual tour of the Concord Grape Belt, visit ww.concordgrapebelt.org and click on the tourism page.


Commercial production of grapes dates all the way back to the year 1000 B.C. It was not until the year 1854 that the Concord variety came into being. The Concord grape is named after the Massachusetts village of Concord where the first vines were originally cultivated. The Concord grape is an extremely robust and aromatic grape derived from wild native species growing throughout New England in the most rugged soils.

Through experimentation with native seeds, Boston-born Ephraim Wales Bull created the Concord grape in the year 1849. At his farm outside the village of Concord, Bull planted some 22,000 seedlings before he produced the grape he was looking for.the Concord. He was determined throughout his experimentation to produce a variety that was early to ripen and possessed a full bodied flavor. The Concord was a perfect fit for his expectations. In 1853, Bull felt that his new variety should be put before the public and he ended up winning first prize at the Boston Horticultural Society exhibition. News of Bull's variety spread worldwide and hence he was indeed "the father of the Concord Grape". He sold cuttings of his grape for $1,000 a piece and unfortunately died a poor man. His tombstone reads, "He sowed - others reaped".

The first non-fermented Concord grape juice was processed in 1869 by a New Jersey dentist named Dr. Thomas Welch. Dr. Welch and his family gathered up 40 pounds of Concords from a trellis in front of their house. In the kitchen of their home, Dr. Welch cooked the grapes for a few minutes, squeezed the juices out with cloth bags, and poured the world's first fresh Concord grape juice into 12 one quart bottles on the kitchen table.

Dr. Welch then processed his juice by stoppering them with waxed corks and boiling them in water, killing native yeasts that would cause his juice to ferment. This method of preservation was a success, and his use of Louis Pasteur's theory of pasteurization labels Dr. Welch as the pioneer of processed fruit juices in America. The first Concord grape juice was used on the Communion table at a local Methodist church for sacramental purposes, and most of the first orders for Concord juice came from churches for Communion.

In 1896, Dr. Welch's son, Charles, transferred the juice operation to Watkins Glen, New York and in the following year, to Westfield, New York. 300 tons of Concords were processed in 1897.

In the 20th century, the Concord grape industry boomed. Today, growers harvest more than 350,000 tons of Concords per year in the U.S. Washington grows the largest number, followed by New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Missouri.

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