How to Grow Table and Wine Grapes
Table and wine grapes are specialty crops that can grow almost anywhere.
Fine wine grapes and table grapes can be successfully grown in northern Minnesota.
The grapes were piled high, almost to the point of falling over the sides of the 5-gallon buckets. I estimated that the three full pails would yield roughly 100 pounds of fruit and, more importantly, five gallons of wine. Looking down the rows of vines, I felt great satisfaction in the hard but rewarding work that went into creating our own little vineyard. I realized right then that growing wine grapes for fun and profit is a great fit for folks with some acreage to spare.
The land I grow my wine grapes on is located in northwestern Minnesota, about 150 miles from the Canadian border. Although Minnesota is far from more traditional grape growing regions, new winter-hardy varieties have expanded the range for the crop in the central and north-central states.
The University of Minnesota is known worldwide for developing cold-hardy grape varieties. Scientists have been breeding vines there for more than a century. Since the mid-1980s, much of that effort has been focused on creating high-quality, cold-hardy and disease-resistant wine and table grape cultivars. Since 1996, the university has released four wine grape varieties that can withstand temperatures below minus 35 degrees. The extreme hardiness of these hybrid vines, coupled with increased demand for the fruit, has created a niche market for small growers who may decide to sell grapes or produce and market their own wines, juice or jelly.
One of the benefits of growing grapes is that once you invest in the considerable expense and effort necessary to establish a vineyard, the vines should continue to produce regular crops for 20 years or more. As with any fruit, plenty of routine maintenance is required to keep the grape vines healthy and producing. But the rewards can be substantial.
Variation in varieties
One of the first steps to creating a vineyard is to decide what type of grape you want to grow. Are you interested in making wine? How about juice, jelly or fruit for the eating? Of course, you don’t have to plant only one type of grape, and some multipurpose varieties make excellent juice and jelly and also can be made into pleasant wines. If there is an established vineyard nearby, or you know someone who grows grapes in your neighborhood, ask them to suggest a few varieties suited to your part of the country. Grape growers tend to go out of their way to offer help to beginners. Don’t forget your local county extension office or the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – they can help with variety selection and growing information, too.
Location, location, location …
When selecting a site for your vineyard it is important to remember that choosing the right location can mean the difference between success and failure in producing a crop. In the upper Midwest, one major concern with growing grapes is the available number of frost-free growing days. While you can’t change the dates of the average last frost in the spring or the first frost in the fall, certain sites are more or less susceptible to early and late season chills.
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