The Concord grape was first cultivated in 1849 by Ephraim Wales Bull in Concord, Massachusetts. He wanted to create a grape that could withstand the colder climate of the Northeast. Using the Vitis labrusca, or "fox" grape, native to the area, he planted 22,000 seedlings. After six years he finally selected a single vine he thought worth keeping and named it after his hometown. Bull's original vine still exists today in Concord!
The first unfermented grape juice known to be processed in the United States was by a Vineland, New Jersey dentist, Dr. Thomas Welch in 1869. Dr. Welch, his wife and 17-year old son, Charles, gathered 40 pounds of Concord grapes from the trellis in front of their house. In their kitchen, they cooked the grapes for a few minutes, squeezed the juice out through cloth bags, and poured the world's first processed fresh fruit juice into twelve quart bottles on the kitchen table.
To preserve the juice, Dr. Welch stoppered the bottles with cork and wax and boiled them in water hoping to kill any yeast in the juice to prevent fermentation. Dr. Welch's process was a success, and his application of Louis Pasteur's theory of pasteurization to preserve fresh grape juice pioneered the industry of canned and bottled fruit juices in America. This first juice was used on the Communion table in the local Methodist church for sacramental purposes, and most of the first orders for grape juice came from churches for Communion.
Charles Welch transferred the juice operations to Watkins Glen, New York in 1896, and the following year to Westfield, New York. He processed 300 tons of grapes in 1897.
In 1952, Welch's was sold to the National Grape Cooperative Association who remains our owners today. In 1971, Welch's enter the Japanese market with bulk concentrate for other manufacturers which grew into a huge success. In the mid-eighties, President Everett Baldwin moved the headquarters from Westfield, New York to Concord, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the Concord grape. During his tenure, he updated packaging, created a new logo and introduced many new products.
Today, Welch's is led by our dynamic President & CEO, Mr. Brad Irwin who continues to guide us into exciting new areas like Ingredients, Licensing and Innovation that will create greater value for our 1000 owner farmers at National Grape Cooperative and for the millions of consumers who cherish our iconic brand. We are farmers. We are family. We are grape. And we love purple!