Starting A Vineyard
Now days you can just about grow a grape garden or vineyard anywhere. Many successful backyard vineyards have been established in nontraditional growing areas. Since Grape vines are naturally adaptable, even areas of extreme climate are now considered reliable habitats.
The key here is to not plant Grape vines near trees or structures that can block sunlight and prevent air circulation. Locate your vines so that they receive the best possible access to sunlight.
It's really simple, photosynthesis requires sunlight. Photosynthesis converts carbon dioxide into sugar and sugar becomes alcohol after fermentation.
Poor air circulation and too little sunshine are major contributors for fungus disease problems.
What is Terroir?
Originally a French term denoting special characteristics bestowed upon a specific geographic location. Well that sounds boring.
All you really need to remember is that it's the taste of the place from which the grapes were grown. It's a specific geographical area that shares the same type of soil and weather conditions contributing to the wines specific personality.
For example, a single grape variety grown in California will taste much different from that same variety grown in France. The true personality of your wine will be affected by your exact location and no other wine in the world will taste exactly the same.
When making your choice of grape variety consider this, your location will have everything to do with your grape growing experience. Local knowledge of successful varieties and cultivation practices will be an absolute essential.
Even more so the selection of your grape variety can be the most important growing decision you will make.
Think about this, most of your growing decisions will be dictated by the climate and composition of your exact site. Does your soil drain well? Grape vines do not like to sit in puddles or really wet areas. They don't like for their feet to get wet.
After a good rainfall examine your proposed site area for standing water. This is one of the many reasons why most but not all vineyards are planted on hill sites. The most noble vineyards are well known for excellent drainage.
Another consideration is soil fertility. Believe it or not grapes don't do well in rich highly organic soils. Vines supported with an abundance of nutrients and water go "vegetative" meaning that Grape vines returns to leaf growth and will stop producing fruit.
This is contrary to anything you may have learned about vegetable and flower gardening.
Best of all, lack of nutrients will also help prevent excessive weed growth. See if the local farm extension has a map of your area. Due to farming and building requirements soil samples are regularly documented and closely followed.
Slope, Aspect and Accessibility:
A good steep slope is perfect for grape growing. Steep hillsides aid drainage and are typically low in nutrient or organic matter due to years of erosion.
A good slope can reduce exposure to heat or cold depending on its aspect.
Aspect is the term used to describe the direction in which the slope faces. In the Northern Hemisphere cooler regions benefit from south facing slopes that maximize heat and sunlight. A south facing slope may not be desirable in warmer regions. Locate your vineyard near by where it can be easily accessible.
You will need frequent access to your vineyard during the growing season for pruning, weeding and pest control. Make sure tools and water are easily accessible at all times.
Climate conditions will mostly determine the variety of grapes that can be successfully grown in your area. No grape flourishes in every region of the world. You'll need to know the length of your growing season to determine what variety will perform best. This is the average number of frost free days. Some grape varieties require longer growing seasons to fully ripen.
Heat, Rainfall, Frost and Freeze:
To help conserve water Grape vines usually shut down if temperatures exceed 95ºF. High temperatures interfere with ripening and can adversely affect quality. The ideal temperature is below 60ºF at night and 70sºF during the day. This is why in some warmer climates it is preferred to use a late ripening variety. They ripen later in the fall in reasonably cooler temperatures.
Grape vines can pretty much handle any amount of rainfall as long as there is plenty of drainage, but of course no sun means no photosynthesis. So it's ok to have lots of rain as long as you have lots of sun to go with it and plenty of drainage.
You will also need to consider the effects of rainfall in regards to canopy management. Canopy management is discussed in the Grape Pest and Disease Control area of this site.
Frost will kill green tissues on vines. The good news is dormant buds, canes, and trunks will usually go unharmed. Late spring frost can cause bud damage and may affect your yield by producing fewer grape clusters.
A freeze on the other hand can kill dormant life. An early fall freeze can be devastating. In some colder regions grape growers actually remove the vines from the trellis and bury them just below the surface so they will survive the winter.
Finding a variety that will grow well on your site can be allusive. Luckily, most of that work has already been done in your region. Since grapes are now grown all over the world, local knowledge exist just about everywhere. Local vintners have already gone through the trial and error phase. Learn from their wealth of knowledge and practical experience.
Save yourself some heartache and find out what does well in your region. Of course if you are in love with a certain wine you should experiment with that variety. A good rule of thumb for experimental would be around ten vines per variety since most homemade wine is made in 5 gallon batches.
However, if you wish to make it easier on yourself then eliminate the choice of varieties that will have the most difficulty growing on your chosen site. Learn about the grape varieties that are currently successful in your specific region. If I were starting from scratch this is where I would begin.
Grape Growing Lesson 2: Grape Planting
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