What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


For years we’ve had a few different varieties of grape vines growing in the back yard. It seems that every year they put all of their energy into rambling all over the place, climbing over the fence, flopping into the paths, and invading the garden spaces. We ended up removing two vines that got too big for the area where they were growing, but have left two others that were planted in a more forgiving space. As I recall, one was a Concord grape and the other a Champagne grape, although I could be wrong. The Concord has languished, never producing so much as a single grape, and not much in the way of a vine. The Champagne grape, on the other hand, goes berserk with vegetative growth every year, producing a few stray grapes along the way, most of which have always been consumed by the quail before we could even taste them.

This year I decided to adopt a kill-or-cure strategy. After the vine bloomed this spring, I kept cutting the canes back to the point where bunches of baby grapes were growing. Maybe not regularly, but enough so that some of the plant’s energy actually went into the fruit instead of over-the-top vines. A few weeks ago I went out and harvested the first four bunches of grapes, and what a treat they were! We ate them, picked right off the vine, still chilled by the cold, wet, outdoor air.

The small grapes are a beautiful, translucent, frosted lavender-pink, with no hint of the sliminess that many home-grown grapes have. They’re just sweet enough, but not too sweet, with subtle flowery and fruity flavors. Although they’re not extremely sweet, they have no hint of sourness, which makes for really good eating. As far as I could tell, they are seedless. In the subsequent weeks we’ve harvested quite a few more bunches, just as good as the first ones. There are still a few stragglers left on the vine, so we’ll be having at least a taste of grapes through the middle of November.

I can imagine that these grapes could be used to make champagne. It would be a light, dry variety. Their fragrance, picked up by the nose while eating them, isn’t the heavy, methyl anthranilate smell of concord grapes or grape artificial flavor. There’s a slight hint of that, just enough to identify them as grapes, but most of the fragrance is a juicy, sweet-astringent, complex accord of flowers and unidentified fruit notes. If they were a perfume, it would be a light, one with a paradoxical wet-dry feel.

Now out to pick the last of the grapes!


  1. We have been considering planting grapes on the long bank near the road. Our resident grape expert is willing to do the planting and build the supports. I will see what he thinks of champagne grapes instead of one the varietals he had in mind. Up until now the only kind of grapes I've ever grown were a kind of wild, foxy tasting version of a concord. Also, thanks to one of your previous posts we are considering planting a row of tea plants (and maybe even tapping our maple trees). According to the charts Camellia sinensis should do OK in this region near the Cascades. What do you think? Gail

  2. Gail, If Himalayan blackberries can grow so well here, anything else from that part of the world should grow, too. Actually, our climate is similar to Darjeeling, but a little more seasonal and drier in summer. The tea bushes at UW seem to be thriving, as are all other species of Camellia, so they should grow well at your place, too.

    I don't think we're that different from the Champagne region of France, either, although I think we have drier summers. The thing about grapes is that it seems to take a few years for them to get well-established and productive, although proper pruning would obviously help. We watered the grapes some this summer, too, which may have helped.

    You reminded me that I need to order taps for the maple trees. Apparently January is the time to do it here.

  3. Update: I was just reading about "champagne grapes", and am pretty certain that the grapes we have are that variety. However, "Champagne Grapes" are not the ones used to make champagne. Instead, they're a Greek variety originally called "Corinth" or "Black Corinth". Oh well, they grow well here and probably love the dry summers.