How to Start a Home Vineyard

Posted by admin on Sep 9, 2019 under Uncategorized

It’s important to understand that starting a home vineyard both a time consuming and time sensitive project; those with very busy schedules should think twice before embarking on this journey unless they are ready to make drastic changes.

That being said, making your own wine from scratch can be a very rewarding experience. You will not only have the finished product once you’ve crafted your first batch of wine; you will also carry with you the beautiful hours spent outdoors taking care of your vineyard and grapes. Starting a home vineyard is a great hobby to take up if you want to adopt a healthier lifestyle as you’ll need to be on your feet and out in nature a lot.

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How large does my home vineyard need to be?

Vineyard size will depend on your desired output. Knowing that a good harvest can translate to about 3 bottles of wine from a single vine is useful in helping you orientate yourself as you start your wine making journey.   

Is the climate right for growing grapes?

If you haven’t been in your current area for a long enough time that you already know how much rainfall your area gets, the average temperature, and how many days of freezing or frost you get every year, you should start looking for these vital pieces of information.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board will be able to provide you with any information you need. You can also find summaries of the climate characteristics of each of the UK’s regions here.

If the climate in your area doesn’t fall within the ideal parameters, you can try using grafted vines. These are vines which have been attached to more resilient root stocks, allowing them to produce grapes even in harsher climates.

Selecting your area

Topography

Selecting the area in your garden where your home vineyard will be placed is likely the most important decision you will take – it is also the first.

Placing a vineyard on a south-facing hillside in the northern hemisphere will produce the best quality wine grapes. Slopes ensure that the soil is properly drained at all times, preventing mould, mildew, and rotting. The rocky soil present on hillsides tends to produce more compact vines and grapes which are perfect for winemaking due to their intense flavour.

Most people won’t have a suitable hillside in their garden. If you also fall into this category, note that placing your vineyard on level ground isn’t the end of the world. While a hillside vineyard has its advantages in terms of grape quality, it also requires more effort and investment in order to establish. Erosion can come into play as well as the need for terracing, which might bring the total investment cost up by quite a lot.

Growing quality grapes on flat terrain isn’t impossible, but it will require more effort on your part. Vines growing on this sort of terrain usually become thicker, requiring extra pruning – if they grow too wild and woolly, the quality of your wine will suffer.

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Exposure to the Elements

Sunlight:

The growing season lasts from March to October and this is when your grapes need to get a lot of sun exposure. You should plant your vineyard with this important point in mind as it is crucial to your fruit developing the necessary flavour. It shouldn’t be placed in the shadow of your house or of trees and should get plenty of sunlight throughout the day (early morning to late afternoon).    

Wind:

The wind is another aspect you need to factor in when deciding on the placement of your vineyard. Winds that are too strong can harm your developing vines during the early stages by breaking off young branches. This can delay flowering or even produce irreversible damage that year by reducing the amount of flowering altogether.

A little-known fact is that leaves stop turning CO2 into oxygen when they’re exposed to strong winds for long periods. Too much wind and your vines actually won’t be able to breathe!  

However, slow gusts of morning and evening winds are known to protect the grapes against fungal growths and rotting. Not only this, wind can actually help fight the common issue of radiation frost. Soil which had been warmed by the sun starts losing its heat during the night, creating a reversal of the normal decrease of air temperature with altitude. Because this phenomenon can lead to the grapes freezing, fans are used in order to blow artificial wind down towards the vineyard soil.   

When choosing the area in which to place your vineyard, moderation is key. The plants should get sunlight throughout the day but shouldn’t be exposed to the sun in such a way that they are burned. They should get enough wind in order to reap the anti-fungal benefits but need to be protected from strong gusts which can harm both their ability to flower and to respire normally.

The Soil

The UK Soil Observatory Web App is a great tool for finding out the properties which the soil possesses in your area. If you’ve only recently moved, or you haven’t taken up any gardening projects which require you to get acquainted to your garden’s soil, it’s worth using a tool such as this in order to get an idea of the soil characteristics.

However, more often than not, it’s best to run soil evaluation tests so that you know the exact makeup of the ground you’re working with. Check with your local lab for more detailed instructions of how to take out the samples. Usually these will need to be taken from the centre of your planned vineyard area and from different depths.

Once you get the results back, you will know what deficiencies you need to address in order to get your soil ready for a home vineyard. The results will normally evaluate the soil sent in terms of wine grape production norms. Even if it doesn’t, it will show you the nutrient makeup of the soil as well as the pH. You can then check the internet or other sources for the ideal range of nutrients and figure out what course of treatment to pursue.  

It is also worth running extra checks for vine pests such as phylloxera or nematode worms which can prevent your vineyard from ever getting off the ground if you don’t use a resistant rootstock.

If you’re interested in knowing more about soil preparation in different contexts, check out our other blog post on how to prepare soil for planting.

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Setting Up and Ordering Vines

Now that you’ve settled on a location and made sure your soil is right for planting wine grapes, it’s time to set up your vineyard.

Vineyards are made up of rows of plants with approximately 6 feet between each other and 3 to 4 feet between each individual plant. If the vines are too close to each other, they will grow in each other’s shade, making them more likely to develop mould or mildew.   

It’s important to note that grapevines must be ordered a year in advance as they are grown to be sold at the beginning of each growing season. You should buy one year old vines – two year old vines are sometimes offered for lower prices. However, there is usually a reason why these haven’t sold during the first year – usually having to do with diseases or low yield potential.  

Make sure you choose a trusted seller and that you are given original certification for the plants as well as guarantees lasting at least three years. When you do receive them, these should show no signs of root or vine damage. If they do, you can and should ask for replacements.   

Trellis, Training, and Holes

A trellis is a framework of light bars, typically made of wood or metal, which you need to set up before planting your vines. This framework will support the vines when they reach maturity. A training system also needs to be set up in order to direct the growth of young vines.

Both of these can either be built by you from scratch or bought. If you want to build your own there are a few useful guides online, including this one.  

Holes of around 8 inches in diameter and approximately 6 inches deep must be dug along the trellis. One hole for each vine is needed – these will be used during the next stage.

Planting the Vines and Dealing with Pests

As mentioned above, growing season for wine grapes starts in March – you should thus be ready to plant your crop in early spring. Depending on the climate in your area, it could be advisable to wait until mid-March before you plant so that you avoid the devastating effects which an early-February freeze can have on your wine making plans.

Warding off pests is going to take up a lot of your time once your vineyard is set up. It is not just insects which you need to contend with either; grape vines can be attacked by all manner of animals such as rabbits and deer for example. Getting expert advice is the best course of action when it comes to choosing how to deal with pests. It’s important to choose a pesticide which will keep pests away but won’t affect your vines.

If insect pests become your biggest problem, it could be worth bringing in birds to your yard which eat said insects but don’t affect the vines or grapes. Our post on attracting birds to your garden will definitely be useful if you decide you need to do this.  

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The Work Doesn’t Stop Here!

Once your vineyard starts taking shape, you’ll start spending more and more time in there. You should start looking at what garden furniture to buy – we’re sure you’ll need a nice garden bench, or perhaps a hammock, to sit back and relax in after doing some work around the vineyard.  

The initial set-up phase is just a small part of being a wine maker. After this is over, a new and even more exciting phase begins which will see you nurture the plants to maturity and then use the fruit to produce a nectar which will remind you of all the beautiful hours spent outdoors in and around your home vineyard.

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