Updated: Jun 16
I'm starting a series of blog posts related to fig varieties that are standards or MUST grow figs, they're usually easy to find, inexpensive and are just a classic variety that you ought to know like the back of your hand. Check out the other blog posts on the other varieties I've covered!
Similar varieties: Beer's Black, Little Miss Figgy, Negronne, Nero 600m, Petite Aubique, Petite Negri, Valle Calda, Valle Negra, Vista, Unk Negretta (Marius), Ischia Black (RW), Black Provence, 7th Street Unk, Vallecalda di Borgofornari, Ischia Black (Arboreum), Picolla Negretta, Malone, Ischia Black (Porq)
Taste grouping: Bordeaux berry
Size: Medium to small
Ripening period: Mid season
Vigor: Medium to high
Rain resistance: High
Spoilage resistance: High
Shape: Pyriforme / Ovoidal
Hang time: Average
Split resistance: High
Climate preference: Well adapted
Taste rating: 4.3/5
Light requirements: Average
Productivity: Very high
Distinct characteristic: Red/brown unripe figs
When I first started getting into more than one fig variety, I was told by a well respected fig grower from Jersey that Violette de Bordeaux was his best fig out of 200 or more varieties that he had tried. Gaining knowledge of all of the rare and interesting fig varieties that exist, I years ago thought he was kidding. I responded with a chuckle. Looking back on that exchange years later, I now know he wasn't kidding, but because it's so inexpensive, common and doesn't get the credit it deserves, I thought that there was no way that could possibly be true. Knowing what I know now about the hundreds of fig varieties I've researched and personally grown, he wasn't too far off actually. It has all the pluses and very few if any minuses when grown pretty much anywhere.
As the name suggests, Violette de Bordeaux is a variety from France, but do we really know for sure that it originated there? According to Condit's monograph, it was brought to the US in the early 1920s and is documented by various fig historians in the early 1700s. Personally, I don't put much stock in the origins of these figs. They travel well and easily. Violette de Bordeaux (VdB for short) can be found in present day all over the world. Obviously made popular in France, but who knows if it originated from another location. I'm sure many do. The real important information is that it's been adapting to France's climate for over 300 years, which you couldn't ask for a better sign that it can be grown in some of the worst fig growing climates in the US successfully. The French also have a deep respect for food and fruit. Having never tasted this variety, you could make a pretty decent assumption that the fruit quality is higher than most knowing that it was cultivated in France for hundreds of years.
All of this spells one special fig, but it does have downsides. It's not uncommon to see cracking on this variety and frequently in my humid climate, mold often forms in those cracks in the fruit. While beautiful, cracking is not exactly what you want here or anywhere for that matter. For this reason I often find myself picking the fruits much earlier than I'd like for personal consumption. It's a superb fig when allowed shrivel or somewhat dry on the tree when it takes on cherry notes and intense berry flavors. This is often found at much earlier stages of ripening when grown in very warm, dry and Blastophaga rich areas. As noted above there are many figs with different names that are similar to VdB, but are not 100% the same exact fig. It's very possible that one of these similar figs with a different adaptation will not show the same frequent cracking I've seen on my potted trees. Another point to consider is that an excess of nitrogen promotes cracking, which is easily achieved in containers. I'm anxious to observe if the same cracking/mold problem occurs as frequently on my in ground Nero 600m this season.
Even though I have seen a lot of cracking from this variety, it almost never splits. Let this serve as a lesson to those in humid places. Figs that have a long slender shape shed water easier and on average split a lot less than their flat or squatty counterparts. What also helps is the length of the stem. VdB doesn't always have a long stem as shown above, but it can and a longer stem also helps figs shed water and split less often. It's really that ovoidal or pyriforme shape you're looking for combined with a long stem in humid rainy climates and VdB certainly fits the bill.
I've seen it written many times in regurgitated nursery descriptions of VdB that it is a dwarf variety. There may be a particular strain or source that is smaller than others, but I certainly wouldn't call it dwarf. In fact, VdB can be among the more vigorous varieties you'll come across. This is usually why you may read about or see different leaf patterns on VdB trees. Believe it or not... VdB can have 3 DIFFERENT leaf patterns. Varying vigor (low, medium & high) shows these differences in leaf patterns and this tree is a great example of exactly that. It's also a great example as to why identifying a variety purely based off of leaves can often be a mistake. Do not be alarmed if your tree is showing a leaf pattern out of the norm. However, if your tree is healthy and vigorous, what you'll inevitably see are large long finger leaves.
Having said so much in favor of VdB thus far, I've yet to mention the best characteristic of this variety. The breba rivals the quality of the main crop and it's plentiful. I saw 25ish breba on one of my potted trees last season and because it ripens early enough for most growers, it has the reputation of being able to ripen both crops reliably in one season netting you an overall bigger harvest and extended harvest. For mostly this reason, it would not be a misleading statement to say that if you had to choose only 1 fig variety, this one could make a lot of sense for a lot of people.