Of all the steps in producing good quality wine, planting your grapes and picking the varietals are the most important. The best winemaker cannot turn poor grapes into good wine, but you can make great wine if your grapes are first quality.
Location, Location, Location
Just as real estate values are highest in the best location; it also is of paramount importance in grape quality. You should plant your vines on a southwest or southeast facing slope to get the maximum exposure to the sun. Photosynthesis, a process that converts carbon dioxide into sugars and other organic compounds, is essential and works best when your vines have maximum sunlight. Without sugar, your grapes won’t properly ferment into alcohol. You should also insure both sides of your vines get equal sunlight.
Dry soil lacking in nutrients is essential to stress your grapevines so you produce small grapes that make the best wine. The best grapes are all skin and little fruit since all the flavor and color come from the skin. Drainage is critical since vines will develop rot if they are located in very wet locations and you won’t get the needed stress. Dig some holes and fill with water. If they take more than several hours to empty, consider a new location, or soil amendments. Make sure you have soil without a lot of organic nutrients and are careful not to add any.
Lay out your Vineyard
The best time to start is in the fall. Your vines should be planted about six feet apart, so mark the location for each vine. Now you can build your trellis system so you don’t damage the roots later. Get rid of all weeds. You may want to use a pre emergent weed killer treatment to kill seeds so weeds won’t return in the spring. In the spring, dig a hole 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep then fill to the right depth for your root with loose dirt. Before planting, prune your new vine leaving only several buds, and prune any broken or long roots. Place your vine in the hole so it will be about 1/2 inch deeper in dirt that at the nursery. Cover the roots and lightly tamp the soil. Your vines are now ready for your tender care.
Care the First Year
We mentioned that your vines will be best in dry soil, but the first year it is important to water them to allow them to establish a good root system. Also, during the first year, you may want to add some compost to encourage strong growth. Now let nature do its work. After several months, tie your strongest vine to the trellis with string so it will become the main trunk of your vine. Also prune away any small shoots that grow from the roots so all the growing energy will go to your main trunk. From now on you want to prune when your vines are dormant. In the late fall, once again prune back any shoots other than the main. The following year in late spring, take the strongest shoots coming from the trunk and tie them loosely to the trellis with string and they will start to grow along the trellis. Go ahead and tie them about every 18 inches as they grow during the year.
Now we need to play a waiting game. Most varieties need at least 3 years to begin producing quality grapes, and 6-7 years to reach their fullest production. As the years go by, the quality of your grapes will also improve. While you are waiting for your grapes to grow, why not buy some grape juice and practice your wine making skills so you are ready when your grapes are.