The Complete Grape Growing System

The Complete Grape Growing System

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Sell or distil your wine.

Allow a single vinegar fly access to your wine at any stage.

Use any metal vessel if the wine will be long in contact with it.

Use any tools or containers of resinous wood.

Omit to stir a must twice daily.

Use too much sugar initially.

Try to speed a fermentation by too high a temperature.

Be impatient; making wine takes time.

Let your wine stand on dead yeast or sediment.

Filter unnecessarily or too soon; most wines will clear of their own accord.

Put wine in unsterilised bottles or jars.

Bottle your wine whilst it is still fermenting.

Use screw-stoppered bottles.

Drink too much!

Grow your own grapes

"BUT surely you can't ripen grapes out of doors in this country?" This, with variations, is the common incredulous reaction one gets each time the subject of outdoor vine-growing is mentioned to the average Englishman.

Vines, so the popular belief runs, are delicate, temperamental things, hard to propagate, complicated to prune, and suitable really only for greenhouse culture, and even then only by an expert viticulturist. And even if one succeeds in growing some vines, declare the pessimists, in our climate it will be impossible to ripen the crop.

These fallacies are widely believed, even amongst amateur winemakers, yet are the opposite of the truth.

Vines can be grown successfully in the southern half of England, and in a reasonably good summer the grapes can be ripened (a really wet one admittedly produces problems). And when we get one of our really hot summers, such as we enjoyed in 1959, the owner of a vine is a happy man indeed.

Vines were grown in southern Britain by the Romans (so this is no new idea!) and today there are many small vineyards where experiments are once more being made in order to accumulate indigenous experience again. Sir Guy Salisbury Jones, indeed, has established a large vineyard at Hambledon in Hampshire, which is well worth a visit, and Mr. and Mrs. Gore-Brown have done likewise at Beaulieu.

The truth is that the growing and training of vines is so straightforward that all who are interested in winemaking should try it; vines occupy little space, they can be planted at the back of flower borders, along fences, beside paths, or on a south-facing wall. They make ideal screens, and they interfere little with flower or salad crops, for they are deep and not surface-rooting. They are as easy to grow as, say, raspberries or blackcurrants. If they are grown espalier fashion along a wire fence it is the work of a moment to throw mats or polythene sheeting over them to protect them from frost, or netting to prevent depredations by birds when the grapes ripen.

The all-important point is to make sure, when you choose your vines, that you select only the earliest cropping varieties.

Just as the Englishman classes his potatoes as "First Earlies," "Second Earlies," "Maincrop" and so on, according to when the crop is ready, so the Frenchman talks of his vines as "Première Epoque," "deuxième Epoque" or "Troisième Epoque" (First, Second or Third Epoch). Thus early ripeners are all of the "lère époque," and very early ones the "lère èpoque prècoce." These will all ripen well in our English climate, whereas 2nd or 3rd Epoch vines will not. Black Hamburg, for instance, which is perhaps the most generally known grape in this country, is only so because it was once widely cultivated in greenhouses, but it is unsuitable for outdoor use here, being of the Second Epoch.

So make sure you choose an early ripening variety, and if in any doubt consult your nurseryman. Vine growers who will be able to help you are Messrs. M. S. E. Lytle, of Formby,. Lancs. (who will send you a useful 16 page booklet, "Successful Growing of Grape Vines," for 6d.), Mr. Barrington-Brock, of the Viticultural Research Station, Oxted, Surrey, and Mr. Edward Hyams, of Kent. Many nurserymen can also supply the more popular varieties.

It is not the intention to discuss here viticulture in detail, for many excellent technical books are available on the subject, but only to give, as it were, a few pointers to the complete novice.

Firstly, if you are planting many vines, do not have all the same variety. Obtaining satisfaction from your vines will be a long-term project, and it is best to choose several different vines and grow them experimentally rather than make a large outlay on one variety which may prove disappointing. Nor need this be expensive, for, cuttings from friends' vines can easily be rooted. Then select the ones that do best in your soil.

Secondly, remember that vines fall into two main categories, producing wine grapes or dessert grapes, and that in each case black and white grapes of varying sweetness are obtainable.

So decide what type of grape you want, and choose some early burgeoning varieties to meet your need.


One point to note is that the beginner is well advised to plump for "hybrid" vines (Continental vines crossed with American) which are vigorous, prolific, early ripening and resistant to lime and disease. The American root stock resists the vine louse (or Phylloxera) which is the scourge of the vitis vinifera, or Continental varieties. The phylloxera kills off the vinifera by destroying the root system, but the American vitis rupestris stands up to it satisfactorily.

It is as well, too, to give your vine grower as much accurate information as you can about your soil, so that he can the better advise you.

You can either grow vines from cuttings or purchase them when 1-2 years old, and plant them in spring or autumn.


If you have them in a row or rows in the garden, growing on a waist-high fence (which is a practical system because they are then much more controllable and more easily protected) they should be at least 2 ft. 6 ins. apart, preferably more, and there should be 3 ft. between rows.

When the vine arrives, if it has not been pruned, cut it down to the lowest two buds on each branch, even if it is 10 ft. high this must be done, or it will never grow grapes of any consequence.

The reason for this drastic pruning, and for those of subsequent years, is that for three years at least one should concentrate about building up a really strong and extensive root system, and not top growth, otherwise the vine can never be really strong and prolific. Therefore the growth above ground must be curtailed so that all the strength of the plant will go into developing its roots. In the fourth year or so it is allowed to fruit. So vine-growing, as you can see, is rather a long-term affair. Luckily winemakers are used to exercising patience!

Choose a sunny position for your vine, facing south if possible, dig a hole big enough to allow the roots ample room, and place the vine in position Space out the roots well, and cover with light soil mixed with silver sand and old compost until the hole is filled. Be sure to tread well in.

As with raspberries, the fruit of the vine is borne on the wood of the previous year, so if a vine is spring planted you could obtain your first grapes in 18 months (though they will be scanty and it is better not to let the vine fruit). Certainly no more than two to three bunches should be allowed to form, or the strength of the vine will be sapped, but from then on a few more may be allowed each year until, in about four years, the vine will be cropping well.

As the fruit begins to ripen keep a close eye on it, and cover it either with netting or with high cloches or the birds will have it first. When the grapes are thoroughly ripe they are pressed, yeast is added, and they are fermented in the usual way (see under "Grape Wine").


If growing from cuttings, take your cuttings in the autumn. You need pieces of stem about 9 inches long, with a pair of buds at either end. Bury these a foot or so deep, laying them horizontally, so that they will survive the winter, and in late March or early April dig them up, and set them just like any other cutting, with the topmost two buds at ground level. Sift some light soil in a little mound over the cutting (about 11 in. high will do) to prevent the wind from drying it out, or frost damage, mark the spot with a cane, and await results.

There are many ways of pruning, and training vines, and the illustration by George Hodgson shows some suggested ones.

Hybrid varieties of Wine Grape to try:

White grapes: Seibel 5279, Seyve Villard 5/276, Seibel 5409, Baco 2-16, Couderc 272-60, Chenin Blanc, Excelsior.

Red grapes: Seibel 5455, Seibel 13053, Seibel 2010, Seibel 8239, Seyve Villard 5/247, Oberlin 595, Baco No. 1

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Making Your Own Wine

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