For twenty plus years, my commute followed the Russian River from Healdsburg to Duncans Mills. Sometimes I would keep going all the way to Jenner and the coast, just so I could touch the Pacific Ocean with my bare feet. The time spent never felt like a commute through this scenic countryside; the drive past through three microclimates: Sunset Zones 14, 15, and 17. In summer, when the inland valley was warm, I could feel the temperature dramatically drop as I reached my home.
Autumn, however, was always my favorite time of year. The crowds had left, the air became heady from the seasonal crush, and the vineyards began their transition from green to shades of yellow, orange and red. The microclimates persisted with their temperature changes, where big leaf maples, Acer macrophyllum, illustrated these differences. Maple leaves in zone 14's arid sun would crisp up and turn brown; even in shade they did not have a glowing autumn display. In zone 15, particularly when they were protected by mighty redwoods near George's Hideaway, the leaves would turn noticeably yellow, a golden tunnel that was best appreciated from my topless Jeep. Ultimately, in zone 17, the maples and redwoods would give way to pasture, cows, and willows...and fog as I approached the coast.
This was at times my daily experience along River Road, and about a quarter mile before Korbel Winery, Vitis californica 'Roger's Red' shines bright like a stained-glass window in the late afternoon sun. Its leaves are brilliantly red in autumn, one of the more distinct seasonal displays not found in other natives, unless you include poison oak. We have Vitis vinifera 'Alicante Boushet' to thank for this color. Roger's Red grape vine is a hybrid between the more well-known cultivar and our own native, V. californica, which has yellow leaves not red. This new hybrid was discovered near Palmer Creek Road along the Russian River. Seeing its annual red brilliance is a true signal of seasonal change.
Roger's Red is a fast grower and can become quite large. The specimen I saw each year was climbing up trees, covering shrubs, and seemed to be unlimited in size. I planted Roger's Red in my own garden, and I quickly learned that my arbor was too small. To keep it managed, I had to prune it about four to six times through its growing season. As a designer, that experience taught be of its advantage to plant on large walls or substantial arbors, then let it go! The fruit is not as rewarding as the fall color or the lush shade cover if used as a canopy. While tasty, the grapes are small, the seeds are large, and the skin can be bitter. Still, a fun reward from an afternoon of gardening.
Roger's Red has taken up residency at West Valley College. A specimen is on display at the Native Garden, unexpectedly used as ground cover. Currently, it is early October, and the vine is still a lush green, but in other locations on campus they are already red. This is a guess on my part, but birds must have eaten the fruit of the parent plant and dispersed the seeds; the vine can be seen growing amidst trees and shrubs just as I remember from the wine country.
West Valley College Campus Location: Vitis californica 'Roger's Red'
Cilker, Native Garden
Long: 122° 0'40.65"W
Botanical Name: Vitis californica 'Roger's Red'
Vitis: Latin for grape vine.
Californica: Associated with California
Common Name: Roger's Red California wild grape
Family Name: Vitaceae
Origin: Hybrid between V. californica and V. vinifera 'Alicante Boushet'; discovered by Roger Raiche along the Russian River.
Positioning: Background, large structures
Garden Themes: Kitchen, cottage, agrarian, native, Mediterranean/drought
Uses: Arbors (canopy), fences, walls, ground cover, accent, border, birds, pollinator,
Type: Deciduous vine
Form: Climbing, spreading
Size: 40' tall by 40' wide (depending upon structure)
Outstanding Feature(s): Fall color; rapid growth
Bark: Red-brown with tendrils
Shape: Palmate, orbicular
Color: Gray when young, medium green turning brilliant red in autumn, showy
Flower: Spring. Inconspicuous inflorescence; self-pollinating
Fruit: Autumn. Clusters of small fruit turning green, red, then purple when ripe. Edible, flavorful, however small and seedy with bitter skin.
cultural requirements, tolerances & problems
Sunset Zones: 4-24
USDA Zones: 6, 7
Light: Full sun to partial shade
WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Low
Texture: Sand, loam, clay, well composted is best
Moisture Retention: Well-drained. Accepts periods of dryness or sogginess.
pH: Acidic to alkaline
Problems: Fruit drop may be messy; vigorous growth
Branch Strength: N/A
Insects: Grape white fly
Disease: Powdery mildew
citations & attributions
Bayton, R. (2019). The Royal Horticultural Society's the Gardener's Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names. London: Mitchell Beazley.
Breen, P. "Vitis × californica × vinifera ' Rogers Red'." Oregon State University, College of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Horticulture, Corvallis. Accessed on October 2, 2021, from https://landscapeplants.oregonstate.edu/plants/vitis-californica-x-vinifera-rogers-red.
Calscape. "California Grape." California Native Plant Society, Sacramento. Accessed on October 2, 2021, from https://calscape.org/Vitis-californica-(California-Grape).
Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc.
Raiche, R. "Vitis 'Roger's Red'." Pacific Horticulture, Berkeley. Accessed on October 2, 2021, from https://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/vitis-rogers-red/.
Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on June 28, 2021.
Grape cluster: "J20160823-0021——Vitis californica x vinifera 'Rogers Red'—1354 Lincoln (29298569515)" by John Rusk is licensed under Creative CommonsAttribution 2.0 Generic.
Vine on wall: "CalWildGrape_3740a" by JKehoe_Photos is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).
All photos by TELCS.