Growing Your Own Wine Grapes

Growing your own wine grapes is a great way for you to expand the amount of wine you produce and learn a lot more about what goes into your wine. You'll feel a lot more connected to your wines when they were grapes grown with your own hands, instead of juice and skins from a wine kit. It sounds like a complicated journey filled with pitfalls, but with a little research and time, you shouldn't have any problems growing your own vineyard.

Choose the Right Wine Grapes for Your Climate

The first step of growing grape vines for making wine is choosing the right variety for the climate of your site. If you are planting vines in a cooler climate site, aim to plant Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon (amongst others). For moderate climates, plant Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon (you can also look at more obscure varieties such as Fiano etc.). For warm climates look to plant Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier (there are others such as Petit Syrah that will do well in warm climates).

Best Place to Plant Wine Grapes

planting wine grapes

Selecting your vineyard site is also an important step. Choose a sloped site that promotes drainage and soil that will retain water without becoming water logged if you can. Clay loam is a good soil type to look for whereas sandy soils are poor due to lack of water and nutrient retention. Certainly, this is not a hard rule to be adhered by. If managed well, vines can grow well in sandy soils. North, west or east facing vineyard aspects are optimal for the vines to receive sunlight and in turn aid with ripening.

Supporting Your Wine Grapes as They Grow

The next step is to choose a trellising system. The most common trellising system is VSP or Vertical Shoot Positioning. This system works for unilateral or bilateral cordons (one arm or two arms per vine). The cordon or cane is trained along a trunk wire from which the fruiting canes will grow. There are 2 fruiting wires that are dropped when the vines are dormant in winter then lifted as the new year’s shoots grow in spring. This lifts the shoots vertical and allows the leaves to take on sunlight, and exposes the fruit for spraying and harvesting. It also makes it easier for leaf plucking if the fruit becomes too shaded by the canopy.

The second most common trellising system is Geneva Double Curtain or GDC. This is a taller trellising system which is good for bilateral or quadrilateral cordons (4 arms). There is a T-piece and wire which the cordon grows from. The fruiting wires then work like a curtain and allows the canopy to grow up and over leaving the fruit in the middle. It is believed this system is better yielding, but much more maintenance is needed in terms of spraying and harvesting.

Growing wine grapes on a GDC Trellis system

Training Your Vines and Seasonal Care for Wine Grapes

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Your vines should be planted in spring and trained on your selected trellising system as the canes grow, train one cane up to the fruiting wire and discard the rest. Once the vine is trained your work becomes seasonal!

Winter: Pruning is the most important job for your vines to produce fruit. When the canes have hardened, and have stopped taking up water, prune the canes back to 2 buds per cane. Generally you discard the basal bud, and want around 6-8 buds per 11 inched (30cms). This makes the vine believe that it is damaged and needs to produce fruit in spring and summer to survive.

Spring: This is when you will get bud burst (the starting of canes growing) and eventually flowering and fruit set. This is the time that you will be lifting fruiting wires to get the best out of the vines and (if you choose to) start spraying for diseases. This is also the time to start watering if required. Grapes don’t like to be over watered so be careful of that if you have high rainfall. There’s no hard and fast measurement as to how much to water. This will depend on the soil type, slope of the vineyard site, temperature, and rain fall factors. Water when required and keep an eye on your vines.

Summer: Here is when you will start to see veraison (the onset of ripening). Now is when you may need to look at bunch thinning to make sure the bunches aren’t too clustered together as this promotes diseases and will allow the vine to focus on putting all of its energy into the fruit that remains.Continued spraying occurs here (if you choose to), and monitoring the sugar levels to select harvest dates. It is important here to manage water, as your vines will need adequate watering but over-watering will cause your fruit to become water logged and the skins may split.

Autumn: Sit back and watch your vine’s leaves turn to reds and oranges and shed them ready for dormancy!

As a final point, it is important to note that grape vines do not require copious amounts of fertilizing (if any), organic matter in the soil is more important.

by Jack Davis
Jack has 12 years worth of experience in the wine industry. He became an avid homebrewer after picking up home winemaking as a hobby a year ago. When he's not making wine, he helps judge at local wine competitions.
written by Jack Davis

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