Massive grapevine thrives in Alberta

HILLCREST, Alta. — A greenhouse tucked into the side of southern Alberta’s Turtle Mountain seems an unlikely place to find a flourishing grapevine.

And what a grapevine it is.

About 30 inches in diametre, the Himrod vine has been judged by experts to be the largest grapevine in Canada and possibly the largest outside California.

“There is no other vine that’s even close to being the size this one is,” said vintner and vine expert Lloyd Schmidt of Grimsby, Ont.

The vine resides at SpringBreak Flower Farm, a garden centre, greenhouse and wedding venue just outside Hillcrest.

When in full leaf, it covers 2,000 sq. feet of roof inside one of the greenhouses, making a leafy canopy and producing 600 pounds of grapes annually.

SpringBreak owner Val Breakenridge has become accustomed to visitors ogling the grape vine and it has become an attraction for couples who want to pledge their nuptials amid the vine’s cool greenery and hanging fruit.

Breakenridge said the previous owners of the operation planted the vine, and she and her husband, Rick, originally considered removing it.

“I almost took it out when we got the place because one of the rules of a greenhouse is not to have any pet plants because you risk pests and disease.

“So it shouldn’t really be in here. But it’s so magnificent.”

Schmidt, a grape vine expert who grew up in the wine country of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, concurs with her assessment.

He believes his father, Frank Schmidt, sold the original cutting.

The elder Schmidt worked for the B.C. agriculture department, and in 1952 received cuttings of four grape varieties from Cornell University in New York state.

He grew them out and found Himrod to have promise.

“The variety became very popular in British Columbia with the Growers Wine Company,” said Schmidt.

Later, he and his father propagated the Himrod and sold cuttings in southern B.C.

Himrod is the name of a town in New York’s finger lakes region, reflecting its origin. It is a cross between a variety called Ontario and the well-known Thompson seedless variety.

John Vielvoye, a retired grower specialist with the B.C. agriculture ministry, saw the vine last fall when it was in full foliage.

“It’s quite a sight, to find a grape vine in that area, to begin with, and that size. It was quite a sight. I was quite impressed,” he said.

“The one Val has is much larger than any of the ones I’ve seen before. The trunk is huge by comparison.”

Vielvoye, who used to advise farmers and vintners on varieties and agronomy, said the Himrod produces a better wine grape than a table grape.

“It’s not really an attractive grape for the fresh market. It tends to produce a long, cylindrical cluster and it doesn’t last very long once its harvested, in terms of appearance. It goes wimpy,” he said.

“The variety never really took off as far as the fresh market grape was concerned, but as a winery grape it did.”

On March 28, the Himrod grape in Hillcrest had just broken open its first bud to start the 2015 season.

Within a few weeks, its foliage will cover the ceiling in the bay in which it grows.

Though the Crowsnest Pass is Zone 2 or 3, the climate in the greenhouse is about a Zone 5.

The vine has a seven-month “summer” in which to flourish when the heat is turned on in March.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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