How to Grow Table and Wine Grapes

Table and wine grapes are specialty crops that can grow almost anywhere.

| March/April 2008

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    Fine wine grapes and table grapes can be successfully grown in northern Minnesota.
    Tim Nephew
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    Newly planted vines stand the best chance of survival with a little protection.
    Tim Nephew
  • GGImage2 Boyle
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    Mature vineyards are beautiful, valuable and relatively easy to maintain. Harmon
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    My dad and his antique Ford tractor made a perfect combination for preparing our vineyard’s soil.
    Tim Nephew

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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.

11/1/2013 9:35:43 AM

I volunteer to help grape growers harvest...and prune at the end of the season (usually in the snow when the plants are dormant). The grape plants that have expired patents are open for gathering the clippings during harvest. From these clippings, given to me by the owner after pruning is complete, I root in my the middle of harsh winter. By Spring I had 150 plants in six inch pots and 3 feet high, ready for hardening and subsequent planting in my field... ...all for nothing but the love and joy of watching them grow...AND, these plants were the equivalent of 1 year old, thus in only 2 years they furnished me a harvest. If you were inclined to buy your 1 year old plants think again and figure what else you can do with your money, like maybe more land, arbors, etc. I now sell my pruned clippings to future growers, along with tips on rooting properly in your basement. GeorgeM Cajun Nectar FArms Somerset, WI

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