Most areas of the United States that are not deserts or very cold can grow some variety of grape. Most traditional wine grapes require a longer growing season, but many varieties do not and home-based and small wineries are popping up all over the country. In Canada, the coastlines are home to many small vineyards as well.
Location for Growing Wine Grapes
Depending on the variety chosen, wine grapes can be grown nearly anywhere. The most popular are concord (usually East of the Rockies), beta (often for jellies as its wine is not a favorite), and valiant (similar to beta, but a better wine grape). There are literally hundreds of wine-producing grapes to choose from. The choice will depend on the type of wine you wish to make and the climate you live in.
Grapes for wines are grown all over. They thrive along the Western seaboard, throughout the eastern areas of Washington, Oregon, and Northern Idaho. They are grown in California’s famous Napa Valley, of course, but vineyards can also be found in Colorado, Kansas, Texas, and even Montana. Minnesota and Great Lakes area locations are also growing grapes in cool climates.
Site Selection for Growing Wine Grapes
Planting is relatively straight forward. Most vineyards use trellises or guide fences to train their vines. This is preferable, preventing the grapes to sprawl heedlessly across the ground. The soil should be well drained, though some varieties prefer a thicker clay-based soil and others prefer thin, rocky soils. Go with your variety’s preference. All grapes prefer a slope for good drainage.
Planting Wine Grapes
Plant the starts in the ground a few inches down so that just a few inches and the new buds appear above ground. Some varieties need a higher start, but most do not. Set stakes about an inch away from the planting and loosely tie the vine to the stake.
As it grows, you’ll move the ties and add a longer stake. Your plants may get to 60 inches in the first year. Allow only the first strong vine to grow, pinching off all others, until it reaches your first training wire – that will be about 60 inches up. Once the vine attaches firmly to the wire, remove the stake. Allow the vine to continue towards the second stake if it will, but sixty inches is an excellent first year’s growth.
Training and Pruning Grape Vines
Remove all shoots before the first wire and also all shoots between the wires once the vine reaches the top wire and latches on. A mature grape vine will have four to six canes with five to twelve buds each and four to six renewal spurs. Prune heavily every year since new fruit is produced only on this season’s new shoots and those grow from last year’s.
Light pruning results in heavy yields of low quality fruit while pruning too heavily results in little fruit and a lot of vegetation. Wine varieties should only have 20 to 30 buds per vine after pruning. A mature plant will usually have four major vines from which buds are harvested – two on each training wire, in each direction. Other training systems involve three wires and train one per wire – these are meant for more tender varieties.
Harvesting Wine Grapes
Harvest is ready when the grapes are full and sweet, but well before they are threatening to fall off the vine. Hand harvesting is the only way to harvest and requires skill with a hooked knife. Most commercial varieties will become ripe at roughly the same time – within a two week period – while some of the more hardy, heirloom preferred varieties will have a wider harvest period. Grapes should begin the wine making process within a few days of harvest.
Pest Concerns for Wine Grapes
Generally, the biggest nuisance to grapes are birds. Netting is the most commonly used and effective bird deterrent. Grapes are also sensitive to many things including sudden temperature changes, chemicals drifting from sprays nearby, etc. Backyard vineyards should be sheltered and well away from all of these things.
Want to learn more about growing wine grapes?
Try growing them in your backyard! Here are some helpful websites:
Growing Grapes for Home Use from University of Minnesota Extension
Growing Grapes (table, wine, raisins) in Your Backyard from University of California