Vitis californica — California Wild Grape
by Sonoma County Master Gardener Anne Brewer
This deciduous vine is not shy. ‘Roger’s Red’ can grow to at least 30 feet and will ramble over and up anything within the grasp of its tendrils, once it is established. And getting this climber established is easy, as it is very adaptable to a variety of conditions.
In the wild, Vitis californica is native to southwestern Oregon and California. In riparian woodlands, canyons and forests, you might see this wild grape scrambling up trees such as oaks, cottonwoods, bays or buckeyes. Although a beautiful sight, valley oaks and cottonwoods may succumb if the vine climbs into the upper canopy. It is often found near river and creek beds where moisture is available most of the year, although, as with many natives, these vines exhibit quite a bit of drought tolerance.
In researching this article, I was able to contact the noted horticulturalist, Roger Raiche, the namesake of ‘Roger’s Red.’ He was generous enough to discuss the origins and recent developments of the lineage of the vine, and revealed that it is, “now considered to be a hybrid between V. californica, the California grape, and a European grape (V. vinifera) cultivar called ‘Alicante Bouschet’, a deep red-fruited (pulp, skin and juice) grape grown widely in the last century in Sonoma and many other counties.
Now for the caveats. As with any deciduous vine, clean up of autumn leaf drop can be a chore, especially if your vine is near your flower beds. And, unless you are diligent about removing all grape clusters before they dry and drop (or the birds finish them off) you may get hundreds of volunteers sprouting the following spring! Once you have inundated your friends and relations with masses of free seedlings, you may grow weary of pulling the little volunteers and will remember to remove all grapes the following season.