Home to Canada's Largest Grapevine

Grapevine garners attention - Article in Crowsnest Pass Promoter  2013/08/16

Joni MacFarlane

Friday, August 16, 2013 11:09:31 MDT AM 

Joni MacFarlane photo.

 A Himrod grapevine at SpringBreak Garden Centre in Hillcrest has been determined to be one of the largest of its kind in Canada. The vine originated from a crossing of two varieties released to the public in 1952.

Sparwood has its truck; Vegreville has its egg. Now Crowsnest Pass has its grapevine.  Visitors to SpringBreak Garden Centre often remark on the large vine with the lush green foliage spreading overhead. In summer, the vine is a welcome respite providing a canopy of cooling shade. And oh, those grapes - juicy, mouth-watering globes of perfect sweetness.

Recently, the vine attracted the attention of one of Canada’s leading viticulturists, who believes it to be one of the largest vines in the country. Lloyd Schmidt and his family have been in the grape and wine business for generations. His family owned a vineyard in Kelowna, which was one of the largest vineyards in the Okanagan at the time and he later started Sumac Ridge in Summerland. Twenty-five years ago, Schmidt relocated to Ontario and his sons now run Vineland Estates Winery in the Niagara Region. Schmidt, who has also worked as a wine consultant and marketer, was brought to SpringBreak by a friend while travelling in Alberta this summer. “I was just flabbergasted with what I saw,” said Schmidt.

After examining the plant and its grapes, Schmidt said the vine is a descendant of the original Himrod vines given to his father, Frank Schmidt, in 1952 – the year they were released from a crossing of grape varieties “Ontario” and the famous “Thompson Seedless”. There were a total of four selections from this crossing, all named after towns located in the Finger Lakes viticultural area of New York State, but the Himrod was the most successful, and released to the public in 1952, he said. Five vines were sent to Kelowna from the New York Agricultural Experimental Station in Geneva, New York and the Schmidts propagated and planted 25 acres at their family farm, Okanagan Mission Vineyards. The grapes from this venture were used to make the first white hybrid table wine at Growers Wine Company in Victoria.

Current owner Val Breakenridge said the previous owner David Wilcox planted the vine after he purchased the greenhouse in 1995. Schmidt said the SpringBreak vine would have been propagated from the original 1952 vine and he suspected it is much older than its reported 18 years. “It could be as old as 50 years old,” said Schmidt. “The reason I say that is because in the ‘60s, on our vineyard, I used to produce grapevines and I sold them to nurseries across the country and that was the leading variety, the Himrod.”

Schmidt added that the plants went into the Kootenay area and the plant could have been picked up from there. Wilcox did work in British Columbia before buying the Crowsnest Pass greenhouse. “In any case, they all go back to these five original ones from 1952,” said Schmidt, “and the vines are very prolific.”

With a girth of 30 inches and covering approximately 2,200 square feet, Schmidt also said its probably one of the largest vines anywhere in Canada and has survived because it hasn’t been subjected to the harsh Crowsnest Pass winters. “While there are vines grown in greenhouses in Quebec and New Brunswick, none of them get anywhere near the size of this vine,” he said. As well as its protected environment, Schmidt said the vines are also very vigorous, he said. Their success is due to the unique combination of parentage - the flavour comes from the Thompson Seedless, while the Ontario contributed a degree of hardiness that the Thompson Seedless doesn’t have on its own.

The grapes make a sweet seedless eating grape, can be dried to make very tasty raisins, and at one time, made a very good wine, said Schmidt. He still has one bottle left from 1965, he added.

Schmidt said grown outside, grape vines can last for hundreds of years but they lose their productivity after about 30 to 35 years. South of London, England, a grapevine has been estimated to be about 800 years old while in Canada, there are Concord grapes in the Niagara region and on Pelee Island that could be close to 100 years old, he said.

SpringBreak owner Breakenridge said she was really surprised when Schmidt visited. “Up until Lloyd visited us, I hadn’t ever thought about it in terms of how it compared to other grape vines. I know it has an advantage growing in the greenhouse so no wonder it’s large and lush,” she said. “Our greenhouse temperatures are comparable to other areas of Canada where grapes are grown in abundance, so it’s really quite an accomplishment to have the largest vine in Canada.”