Vineyard at home? Face the cold facts of growing grapes in NH
"If you don't select rootstock that can grow in New England, you will fail. Period. So you have to select cold-hardy grapes," she said.
"For example all of the grapes on our property are good to 29 degrees below zero," LaBelle said. "Whereas Cabernet Sauvignon — which is maybe the most popular grape, one of the most well-known grape — is only good to 10 or 12 above zero. So, it would get wiped out every year. It just couldn't survive here. So it's not our summers that's the problem, it's the winters."
Next, pick a good site. Remember, grapes are finicky and truth be told, it's best that the soil is prepped a year in advance, according to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. (Unless, that is, the homemaker just wants to cover a nice arbor in his or her backyard with vines and in five years have enough grapes to make wine. If that's the case, Manly said, plant a vine or two on either side of the arbor and in five years, the winemaker will have his or her wish.)
The soil itself needs to be well-drained and sandy, although other soil types can be amended to make a nice environment for grapes. Because grapes like well-drained soil, they do well on hillsides, LaBelle said. The land should have a rise of at least five feet in every 100 feet.
The slope should also face south/southwest to give the grapes the best head start, LaBelle said. It's also good to get the soil tested to check its pH, which can be done through the UNH Extension.
Once the site and soil are sorted out it's time to move onto picking out the actual plants. First, figure out production. Legally, a home winemaker can make up to 200 gallons a year for personal use. The rule of thumb is that a single vine will produce enough grapes about one bottle of wine, once it comes to fruition.
"You have the best success starting from those," he said. "There are a number of dealers in the Northeast that specialize in those types of vines."
The plants should be spaced 8 feet apart in rows 8 to 10 feet apart, according to UNH and soil should be packed firmly around the roots. Newly-set plants should be pruned to a single cane.
LaBelle said some vines may be so happy that they will start to push fruit in the first year. If that happens, they should be cut back. And Manly said a vine typically will produce more grapes than you want, which is why wine grape growers will cut back the grapes in the first year of production.
The first year, the grapes are cut and used for compost; the second year is selective cutting. Third-year grapes should be good enough to try making some wine, but true wine production comes in year four or five.
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