Grape vines are among the earliest wild plants cultivated by humans and boast a rich and fascinating history. Tough and hardy, in their wild state they'll happily wind themselves around a tree and survive for decades--yet there is an art and a science to cultivating grapes for harvest.
Our ancient ancestors began cultivating wild grape vines at the dawn of agriculture in order to harvest them for wine production. The ancient Greeks and Romans eventually perfected the early art of wine making, but archeological evidence suggests attempts at vinification as early as 4000 B.C. When Leif Erikson's ships landed on the east coast of North America in 1000 A.D., the viking explorer named the land Vinland because of the wild grape vines growing there. Columbus brought grapes to Haiti in 1494, and colonists eventually brought them north to the United States.
Varieties and Features
There are about 50 species of grape vines, 20 of them growing in the United States. California is widely known for its vineyards, but the Finger Lakes region of New York State also boasts gorgeous vineyards and hardy, cold-tolerant grapes. Grape vines have a long lifespan--the oldest known grapevine is over 400 years old and can be found in Yarra, Slovenia. It still bears fruit. The average grape vine lives 60 to 70 years. The typical growing season for a grape vine is 150 to 180 days, during which time it can produce 25 to 30 pounds of fruit.
Growing Grape Vines
Grapes like deep, well-drained soil. They also prefer slightly acidic soil conditions, which can be achieved by mulching with fir or pine needles. Plant your grape vines 5 to 8 feet apart. If you have more than one row, separate the rows by 8 to 12 feet. In the wild, grapes depend on trees for support. In cultivation, they need you to provide them with support. Train the vines to grow over an arbor or wire trellis. Vintners use wire trellis systems of 4-by-4 wood posts with 9- to 12-gauge wire stretched taut from post to post. Grapes grow fruit on 1-year-old canes. When pruning grapes, keep two young canes on each side. Canes that are two years of age or older are visibly cracked and peeled.