The process of growing grapes for wine is both a complicated and lengthy one and it generally takes three to four years of growing before the grapes are ready to be harvested to be made into wine. There are two main varieties of grapes that are used for making wine: hybrids and European grape varieties.
Hybrid grape varieties were bred for greater disease resistance. They were also bred so that it would be possible to grow wine grapes in areas where winters would otherwise be too harsh for the vines to survive. European grape varieties are better suited to warmer climates where the growing season is longer.
It is important to realize that the best wine is not made from large grapes, but rather from the smaller grapes. Large grapes produce more juice, but the flavor that is sought for wine is found not in the meat of the grape, but rather in the grape skins.
Where to plant the vines –
The location of the vineyard is crucial to successfully growing the grapes. Grapes will thrive in warm, brightly sunny and dry places. They need to grow in soil that drains well, but that is poor in nutrient quality. By growing grape vines in poor quality soil, they can be stressed into producing the desired smaller grapes.
Smaller grapes are preferable for making wine because they hold all the color and flavor that one wants for wine. Large grapes taste sweeter, and are better for eating, but they have more meat and less skin.
A proper site for growing grapes should be one where there is full sun, excellent drainage and soil that is lacking in nutrients. Ideally, the vines should be planted on the top of a slope and should run north to south so both sides of the vines get the sun as it moves from east to west throughout the day. The bottom of the slope is situated in a place where it will get less sun, less warmth and be more prone to frost, something that can easily kill the grapes.
In addition to places where there is ample full sun and warm temperatures, grape vines need dry soil conditions. If their feet get too wet for too long, they will either rot and die or produce a smaller quantity of inferior quality grapes. Sunlight is essential because it is what makes photosynthesis possible.
How to plant the vines –
Plant the vines six feet apart in rows that are eight feet apart. One possible way to lay out the vineyard is to plant six rows of twelve vines. That will create a vineyard that is 72 feet long by 48 feet wide. To make sure that there is enough room to move around, make the vineyard 80 feet long by 54 feet wide.
Supporting the vines –
Grapes need to be supported on trellises. Use a three wire trellis so that the vines can grow up and through the wires.
Placing the posts –
Start by sinking eight foot posts two feet at both ends of each row, and then at twenty-four foot intervals within each row. This provides four posts per row.
Between the wooden posts, sink eight foot long steel fence posts two feet deep at eight foot intervals. Along the 72 foot row, there should be four six foot tall wooden posts and six six foot tall steel fence posts.
Stretching the wire –
Then stretch 13 gauge wire at 40, 52 and 64 inch intervals above the ground. Then secure the end posts with earth anchors (these are large screws with rings on top that get twisted into the ground with a bar.)
Planting the plants –
Plant one vine at each end of the rows, and then plant ten vines at six food intervals along the length of each row. Before planting each vine, dig large holes and loosen the soil well enough to ensure that the soil will drain properly. Proper drainage is essential. Don’t add anything to the soil to amend it unless it is so bad that not even weeds can survive in it.
Producing the wine –
Each vine should be able to produce roughly one gallon of wine per year. Obviously, this won’t be the case for every year, and will depend on many factors, including whether or not birds eat the grapes before harvesting, whether bad weather harms the vines, or whether they are harmed by disease.
Hybrid grapes are higher in acid, so it is necessary to add additives to lower the acid levels during wine production. The actual fermentation process takes one to two weeks, and after that, the aging process begins.
Where not to grow grapes –
The south east part of the United States and the southern Gulf coast are generally too damp and humid for growing grapes. That amount of moisture will easily foster the growth of all sorts of fungal diseases.
From start to finish –
Growing wine grapes is a time consuming and labor intensive process. From the time the vines are planted to the point at which one can harvest enough grapes to make wine, it may take anywhere from three to four years. Although it only takes a couple of weeks for the wine to begin to ferment, the aging process can take another two to four years.
All in all, it isn’t likely that anyone who grows grapes with the intention of making wine from them will actually be able to drink any of their creation for a good six to eight years, and possibly even longer. It is a serious commitment both in time, the amount of work it takes, and the level of patience one must have. For those who do have the space and inclination to grow wine making grapes, the results can be immensely rewarding.
Mother Earth News
Growing Wine Grapes