Whether you want to plant a few grape vines in your garden or start a vineyard, Missouri is a great place to grow grapes. Grape vines take 3 to 5 years to reach maturity and begin producing grapes, but they will be productive for approximately 30 years. The critical decisions you make at the start regarding variety, location and setup will dictate future success.
Many varieties of grapes grow well in Missouri. According to the Missouri Wine and Grape Board, Missouri has 1,500 acres of planted grapes and 90 wineries. Grapes selected for planting in Missouri need to be cold tolerant even in the southern part of the state because freezing temperatures and snow damage less cold-tolerant plants.
Commonly grown varieties are hybrids of native American grapes and French grapes. The most widely grown grape variety in Missouri is Norton—also called Cynthiana.
According to the USDA National Information System, “The French-American hybrids grown in Missouri for red wine are Chambourcin, Chancellor, and Rougeon. French-American hybrids for white wine are Cayuga White, Seyval, Vidal blanc, and Vignoles. The principal V. labrusca varieties grown in Missouri are Concord, Catawba, Delaware and Niagara.”
You want a sunny location, which in Missouri often means a south-facing slope or a north/south row orientation. You need to consider water availability, soil fertility and prevailing winds when selecting your planting site. Missouri's long summer season and rocky soils in the south are considered ideal growing conditions for wine grapes.
That is why, according to an IPM Center report (April 2000) on Missouri crop profiles, grape growth is concentrated "in a region bordered by the Missouri River to the north, primarily from Hermann to St. Charles, and the Ozarks plateau in the St. James area and in southwest Missouri near Mountain Grove."
Plant your grapes in well-drained soil that has a loam consistency and an acidic pH. You want the prevailing winds to be parallel to the rows rather than perpendicular. If planting on a slope, plant the rows to follow the natural contours of the land. Securing the plants to the training wires will help prevent wind damage to young plants.
Setting up the vineyard
You'll need an irrigation system and a support system for the vines. Drip irrigation systems work well for grapes: They keep moisture off plant leaves, reducing the potential for fungus problems.
Trellises or training wires provide support for the grape vines that are heavy with fruit. To build a trellis or support, you will need end posts to keep wires taut, strainers to tighten wires, support wires strung between line posts and attachments to secure the canes to the wires. The plants are trained to grow using the wires for support.
Trellises may be vertical like the Kniffen and bilateral cordon or horizontal like the Geneva double curtain depending on the growing habits of the cultivar. Since Missouri grape hybrids such as Cynthiana, Chambourcin and Chancellor among others tend to be produced on vigorous plants that grow quickly, Kansas State University Viticulture specialists suggest using the Geneva Double Curtain Trellis for very vigorous vines.
Set grape plants about 5 to 8 feet apart with 8 to 12 feet between rows.
Prune grapes during their dormant season from November to March. Pruning is essential to ensure good-size grape bunches the following year. Because grapes produce fruit on year-old canes, your growing plants will have two types of cane: new canes for the following year and 1-year-old canes that produce in the current year and are then removed.
Select young canes to keep that are the width of a pencil and between 3 to 6 feet from the ground.