Monday, 29 December 2008

Grape Expectations

Our first faltering steps into the world of hobby winemaking have yet to reach fruition, but in anticipation of some measure of success I've been attempting to hack-and-slash the grape vines into shape this weekend in readiness of next year's (hopefully sun-drenched) vintage.

Grape vines need to be treated quite meanly in order to keep them cropping keenly. Too big a harvest can result in lots of tiny unripe grapes, not great for winemaking or anything else for that matter, although the birds don't seem to mind. To achieve this I prune our vines very hard in the Winter, using the easy to understand, but hard to pronounce Double Guyot system.

In this system all but two canes of the previous seasons growth are cut back to the main stem (Stock), these two remaining canes are then bent down onto a horizontal wire and trimmed to restrict the number of fruiting buds to (in our case) around 12. These buds should then produce new growth in the Spring, growing upwards throughout the Summer and bearing bunches of grapes low down on the canes.

It's very satisfying work, and if done correctly should result in a neat set of vines trained against the wall, and a large tangle of cuttings on the ground. The Rockingham Forest Cider Hens kept a watchful eye on proceedings, ever hopeful that a few juicy grapes may have escaped the September harvest. Sadly their patience went unrewarded, though a few unexpected caterpillars sheltering in the prunings kept them happy enough.

This year I'm attempting to propagate new vines from these plentiful cuttings. The varieties we have are Rondo and Regent, both developed to ripen reasonably easily in cooler climates, and capable of producing a very decent red wine in better years (which sadly this year wasn't!). It's illegal to sell these particular varieties of grape vine unless a royalty is payed to the people that developed them, so I'll be giving away whatever we don't use ourselves.

After studying a few books on propagation I decided to try two fairly similar methods, one involving lengths of cane with three buds, and one where the pieces of vine have just one bud with a little over an inch of cane for rooting. The latter method looked a little neater, and to me seemed the more likely to succeed, but what do I know!

Both methods of propagating are easy enough in practice, the dormant bud will hopefully break to produce the new growth in Spring, and by cutting a shallow strip off the bark and dipping this end in a rooting hormone, roots are encouraged to form in a free-draining compost. If I keep the compost moist, but not so wet as to encourage rot, I'll hopefully have a whole vineyard worth of new vines ready to plant out in the early Summer.

1 comment:

Ray and Gail said...

Up here in the grim norf, we always had - and have - plenty of new vines by cutting a length of stem from last years fruiting cane about 150 - 200 mm long, trying to ensure a bud at each end. Simply push it into some soil in a bright but not too sunny / dry spot and leave through winter. Ensure it doesn't get too dry in the summer. By the next autumn, lots of new vines to dig up and give to friends & neighbours.