The Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace—the lavish estate of King Henry VIII and his many wives—is the largest grapevine in the world. First planted in 1768 for King George III, today its longest rod stretches for about 120 feet.
The Black Hamburg vine bears dessert grapes, meaning its harvest is better suited for an after-dinner treat rather than making wine. When the vine was first planted, maintaining such an exotic crop was an intense process that required diligent care. As a result, only members of the royal family and their honored guests could indulge in the sweet fruit of the gardener’s labor.
The grapes became available for public purchase in the 20th century, after the fruit became less of a novelty. During World War II, German prisoners of war were even tasked with thinning the bunches to help maintain the massive vine.
Now nearly 250 years old, the impressive plant still bears fruit. Gnarled vines curl around support beams, their leaves creating a thatched green canopy over the building’s interior. In the spring, flowers fill the air with their fragrance.
Come late August, once the grapes have fully ripened, the Vine Keeper plucks the sweet black berries during the annual three-week harvest period. She’ll pick an average of 600 pounds of grapes each year.
Though the fruit was originally meant for royal diners only, now, anyone who pops into the palace shops during September can purchase their own bunch of the sweet treat.
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