Sections

9.1.16

Wild Thing: Fox Grape

(Vitis labrusca)

No, there aren’t any vineyards on Martha’s Vineyard. Nor are there any wineries. Many a tourist’s hopes have been dashed upon discovering this is not the Napa of the East. Still, there are plenty of wild grapes. Where did the confusion begin? Legend has it that English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold took note of the abundance of fox grapes when naming the Island for his daughter. (Gosnold was apparently a fan of this sort of I Spy–style naming conceit. While exploring the nearby coast, he spotted a bunch of fish. Cape Cod was born.)

Where to look: All over the Island. The wild grapes are easily identified by broad, vaguely heart-shaped leaves that grow on vining tendrils. They can climb far into treetops,
but are also commonly found covering low-growing shrubs along the sides of roads and on sunny beach paths. Grapes grow in blueish-black drooping clusters that ripen
to a dark purple.

How to use: Fox grapes are related to Concord grapes – the latter is a cultivar of the Vitis labrusca species – but are smaller and have a tart, musky flavor. They are often enjoyed as jam or jelly, but are rarely eaten on their own. They can be made into a decent wine – so who knows, perhaps some industrious and patient person will set up shop and finally provide an answer to the question: “Which way to the Vineyard’s vineyard?” We can only hope.

“We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.”      
     – E.B. White