Growing your own wine grapes may sound complicated, but the rewards are well worth it. Starting a home vineyard is a wonderful way to educate yourself about wine and growing grapes. Many at-home winemakers cherish the act of personally attending to the vines instead of simply using a wine kit that provides skins and juice.
Becoming a grower is within reach. Let’s consider the fundamentals, such as the climate where you live, the ideal place to plant, and what you need to support your vineyard from seed to harvest.
Location and Temperature
Any respectable oenophile understands certain regions produce specific grapes, and climate can either lead to a dazzling result or a catastrophe. There are various classification systems for climate in the US, but in general, the wine industry uses something called the Winkler Index, which accounts for maximum temperatures during the growing season.
However, there are other factors that need to be considered when growing wine grapes, including humidity, precipitation, temperature variations, climate consistency, and even cloud coverage. Broad climate categories in the United States include:
- Continental, which has cold winters and humid summers, with large seasonal temperature variations between 30 degrees and 60 degrees.
- Subtropical, defined by its hot summers and characterized by intense but brief thunderstorms. Normally, little average temperature variance occurs in the summer and ranges between 75 degrees and 81 degrees.
- Mediterranean or Temperate, defined by wet but mild winters and dry summers that can be either warm or very hot. Often located near large bodies of water at between 30 and 40 degrees latitude.
- Polar/Alpine, which is cold every month of the year with temperatures averaging below 50 degrees.
- Tropical, monthly average temperatures that fall above 64.4 degrees with abundant annual rainfall.
Although grapes can be grown in most of these climates, vineyards that produce high-quality wines are usually in either Continental or Temperate climates. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Pinot Gris are examples of wines that can be successfully produced domestically.
Maintenance and Patience
Once you have selected the ideal grapes based on your taste preferences and area, you are ready to dig. Remember that growing takes extreme patience, diligent maintenance, and pruning.
In early spring, about a month before the last frost is the ideal time to plant. After the initial growth phase, when you have a few shoots, prune back until only a couple of the healthiest shoots remain. Make sure the vines are not on the ground and tied to a trellis or stakes.
Cold weather climates require extra steps in the winter. You will want to have the canes on trellises about two or three feet apart and regularly remove any weakened canes. In the winter, remove those that have produced fruit the year before and cut back the immature canes to about five or six buds while leaving some for renewal, pruned back to only two or three buds. Remember, it takes a while to start grape vines and even as long as a few years to get wine grapes.
Responsible Drinking at Home
With a home vineyard will come inevitable house parties, and with guests drinking, there is always the possibility of accidents. Call a rideshare for any guest that seems intoxicated. Getting hurt in a motorcycle crash or car accident certainly does not top anyone’s list of things to do this season. With work and a responsible attitude, you’ll be enjoying your home vineyard for years to come.