Have you ever heard of Moon Drop grapes? Here’s everything you need to know about this fantastic fall fruit.
It used to be that when it came to the grape selection at your neighborhood grocery store, the options were limited to the standard round red, black, or green berry. But a few years ago, an eye-popping alternative joined the fold completely altering our grape expectations. With its deep purple hue and elongated shape that resembles stubby Grimace fingers, the Moon Drop, which dropped in August and will stick around shelves through November, is hard to miss.
And this is no mere novelty. The grape is truly the complete (oversized) package—offering pronounced sweetness with just the right balance of acidity—that stomps all over the competition.
But where exactly did the Moon Drop come from?
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Made in the U.S.A.
Despite its otherworldly appearance, the Moon Drop is a product of California, more specifically from Shafter, a few miles northwest of Bakersfield. There the fruit is exclusively grown by Grapery, which over the past two decades has completely changed the grape game developing viral varieties such as Cotton Candy and Gum Drops (and yes, both certainly live up to their sweet tooth billing).
“Our passion and our drive is to grow the most flavorful grapes in the world,” says Grapery CEO Jim Beagle, who joined forces with company founder Jack Pandol in 2008.
Both Beagle and Pandol recognized the limited variety of table grapes available for mass consumption and have made it their mission to expand those options well beyond our traditional expectations for the fruit.
There are over 10,000 varieties of grapes around the world (wine drinkers are sure to be familiar with several of them), and long before the Moon Drop, wild elongated berries have been growing in the southeastern United States and across the Middle East. Yet despite this abundance only a tiny bunch ever make it to the supermarket.
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Consumers expect a snackable grape with thin skin, no seed, and of course, great flavor, while farmers rely on traits such as yeast resistance and high yield. But checking off all those boxes is a difficult task. So it’s no surprise that despite becoming commercially successful in 2016, the Moon Drop’s journey to market began well before that.
Many Moons Ago
While the unorthodox berries produced by Grapery may seem like something out of Willy Wonka’s factory or Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, they’re Non-GMO.
“The concept that we really advocate for within that company is to go around the world and find these wild grape species that have all kinds of interesting characteristics,” says Beagle. “We bring them here and start cross-pollinating everything… Grapes are vegetatively propagated. It’s not a hybrid that comes out of seed like corn or other plants. Once a variety is created, you take cuttings off that variety and you create new plants out of that.”
This means that genetically, the Moon Drops you buy in the store today share the exact same DNA as the ones initially grown all the way back in 2001. The only difference is in how they are farmed.
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The path to developing a berry that is commercially viable is a long one, and in the case of the Moon Drop, it took over 15 years of coaxing out the grape’s best qualities through various farming techniques.
“It is remarkable how each variety has its own unique recipe for how to get the most of it,” notes Beagle. “What’s the right amount of compost? What’s the right mix of fertilizer and nutrition? What’s the right irrigation timing and in what quantities? With a lot of trial and error, you can get there.”
A Grape of the People
Once Beagle and Pandol had a product they could serve with confidence, they tested with friends and family.
“We’d usually have a few boxes of fruit in those early years to show people,” says Beagle. “We’d put them in front of the neighbors, or bring them to the soccer game, or send them to a customer.”
Public input even extended to the naming of the Moon Drop which was the result of a contest. Then, of course, there’s the impact of social media, which Beagle acknowledges has played a large part in spreading the word about and, more notably, visual oddity of the bizarre looking berries.
“My biggest lesson in this industry over the years is that just because I like the grapes doesn’t mean that other people don’t like them, and vice versa,” Beagle says. “Moon Drops are a great example of how that came about and became a big focus of ours—because of all the feedback we got from people.”
Header image courtesy of Ivan / Moment / Getty Images