According to the National Grape Cooperative, grapes are believed to be one of the earliest cultivated fruits, with Mesopotamians starting the practice. Today, they are grown in specific regions in home gardens and vineyards. Certain varieties are better suited for certain uses, but to successfully grow and harvest any of them requires knowledge, patience and practice.
Archaeological evidence suggests Mesopotamian farmers began taming and refining wild grapes around 6000 BC. Their popularity then spread, with the Romans recognizing the importance of climate conditions and pruning when it came to flavor and production, and honing processing methods. The Roman Catholic Church, with its wine production, can be credited with keeping viticulture going through medieval times and beyond, according to the National Grape Cooperative.
Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service states thousands of grape varieties exist but that "fewer than 20" are grown to any significant extent worldwide. Grape classes include American, French hybrids and European. Certain varieties are grown for wine production, like Chambourcin for red wine, while others are grown for juice drinking and preserves, like Concord, and eating straight off the vine, like seedless Jupiter.
A balance of temperature, sunlight and soil is necessary for growth and varies with each grape type. Some hilly and mountain regions offer protection, and some places near oceans provide cooling breezes. Proper ripening happens only when a combination of factors is met, like in regions of northern California, the Lake Erie islands, Iberian Peninsula, South Africa and France.
According to Ohio State University Extension, grapes should be planted in spring so that young plants avoid damage caused by winter ground heaving. When choosing a site, the soil's ability to drain trumps its makeup. Fertile soil is not necessary for successful growth, according to Iowa State University Extension, but slight acidity is preferable, and full sun is essential. Dormant, bare-root grape vines' roots should be soaked for up to three hours before planting. Holes should be dug slightly larger than the plants' root systems, and placed 6 to 8 feet apart, with rows 9 feet apart.
Training and Pruning
Grape vine growth must be kept in check. Just after planting, cut the vine's strongest cane back to two or three buds and remove other canes. The new growth from the sole cane should be trained to grow along a stake to keep it straight. Two of the strongest should be selected once they begin growing, and tied to the stake until they reach a trellis system of stakes and heavy duty wire that grape vines are trained to grow along. Fruit is grown from woody vines that are 1 year old. Pruning must be done annually on this wood, but the amount depends on the grape variety.