HARVESTING RAISINS IS ONE of agriculture's great pains. California's Thompson Seedless grapes don't ripen until the end of August, when the weather is too cool for them to dry on the vine. Researchers have dreamed of creating a sweet grape that ripens early enough to dry on the vine instead of in trays.
In the early 1980s, U.S. Agriculture Dept. researchers in Fresno, Calif., invented a technique for doing just that. They cross-pollinated seedless grapes--extracting the tiny embryo--to create new seedless varieties. After much tinkering, USDA researcher David W. Ramming has shipped the first cuttings of his new grapes, called DOVine, for "dried-on-the-vine," and pronounced "divine." The world's first successful hybrid of two seedless grapes, they could change how raisins are harvested. Because they ripen to peak maturity 14 to 17 days earlier than Thompson grapes, shoots can be cut from the vine and left on trellises to dry in the warm breezes. Once dried, the fruit can be shaken from the canes by machines rather than hand-harvested. And the taste? "Plumper and sweeter than other raisins," Ramming declares.