For the love of wine, I decided to try and grow grapes myself in my yard. I have a very lot in a housing community that is about only 1/2 an acre. My backyard has a flowing creek that keeps the ground moist there. With grapevines needing well-draining soil and a hill is always nice, I had no choice but choose the side of my house and I ordered myself two 2 year old Cabernet Franc vines. Now I will warn you, this is not a how to or an advice experiment. I literally just on a whim ordered some vines and some equipment in an attempt to grow grapes with little to no experience. I know Cabernet Franc has done well in Virginia and it is one of my favorite Virginia wines.
My vines came from Harvest Express and I also ordered their metal trellises. I ordered the recommended planting sleeves to protect from nature and the bamboo stakes to hopefully train shoots. I picked up the rest of the supplies from a local hardware store and now I was ready for when the vines came in.
First, I hand tilled the soil to really loosen up the dirt and pick out any old roots that would possibly get in the way. I actually had to transplant a bush, that is how small my site is. I used some sticks and a tape measure to mark & measure exactly how far apart the vines would be and then how far the trellis would be from them. My site is so narrow that I had to stay in the closer end of the 6 to 8 foot recommendation that I found in most books and websites. I am at about 6 1/2 feet apart. I assumed that since a trellis had to go in-between them I put the metal posts 3 feet from the vines on either side.
Next, I used a small sledge hammer and drove the posts in the ground. The trellis from the website was made to be a ‘T’ but after researching Cabernet Franc and other Trellis systems I decided on a “Vertical Shoot Position Trellis.” I decided to drive the short end of the ‘T’ in the ground at a 45 degree angle in order to attach the wire to a turnbuckle that I hope in the future would make it easier to tighten the trellis wire. If I bear a fruit it may seem like I have enough tension now to hold but once you add an average of 6 lbs per vine plus the weight of the vine, I may be way under.
After that, of course, I ran the wire. It wasn’t that hard, you just need to work on your tying off skills and then tighten with the turnbuckle. I ran three wires while most others have more, these trellises are a little shorter than your commercial ones so I had to make a decision a lower trellis with more wires or a higher trellis with less. I didn’t want to take a chance of the vine over growing the base wire, I went with the latter.
I followed the website’s email instructions. I dug two holes 18 inches deep and about 12 inches wide. I spread out the roots that I had dipped in water (Harvest Express didn’t say do this but every other website and book did) in the hole. Once they are secured in the hole, you add the top soil back but lightly tamper it in there. You do not want packed soil but you do want all the air to escape.
Finally, I took those grocery store ties and dug the bamboo sticks in the ground next to them and tied the vine to it below the buds. Again, I couldn’t find one clear answer on all of this but I hope I am using common sense. I then watered the plants and the surrounding soil and put the planting sleeves over top of the vines. They said to put these in about 1 to 2 inches in the ground. I found an inch to be hard enough.
The only thing that really bothers me now is how much to water. Every website has a different opinion. Some say after a good watering after planting, do not water unless the ground cracks (I am not sure if they ever happens in Virginia). Others say water really well for the first month. Harvest Express just told you to be careful because over watering can hurt the vines. My plan is to do something in the middle. Lightly water consistently for the first month and then let nature do it’s thing unless we really do have a drought.
So this is my experiment with two little Cabernet Franc grape vines at growing grapes. If you do not know, the first two years are all about training the vine and not creating fruit so I will keep you updated on the progress (if they survive) and hopefully by the 3rd year I will be making wine. Today, I ordered a kit with juice to try and create my own wine in the meantime so that hopefully I will have all the kinks worked out by the time it comes to my own grapes.
As a side note, I also have a peach tree that had fruit last year and I might try to make wine from it. I also must give lots of credit to a great textbook that was a little expensive, “Grape Grower’s Handbook: A Complete Guide to Viticulture for Wine Production” by Ted Goldammer. It is more for someone planting an couple of acres than someone like me who is planting two grapes but it is a complete guide.