ripening grapes on a vine
Updated: June 14, 2021

Growing grapes

Grapes have been cultivated for thousands of years. The grapevine adapts relatively well to a wide range of soils and can be grown and manipulated rather easily.

Wine Grapes
Before planting wine grapes (Vitis vinifera), you should visit local wineries and do some research. These grapes require specialized knowledge of site requirements, pruning, and pest management. V. vinifera cultivars are generally less cold-hardy and more susceptible to black rot than table grape (V. labrusca) cultivars. Wine grapes must be very ripe to make good wines. Table grapes are good even when under-ripe. Canopy management and good exposure of clusters to light is more critical for wine grapes.

V. vinifera cultivars that can be successfully grown at home include: Chardonnay (only good sites), Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Cabernet Franc (only good sites), Chambourcin, and Foch

Selection 

Grapes are a self-fruitful crop, meaning pollen from the same cultivar is effective for fertilization and fruit growth. However, they require bee activity for the best fruit production (careful use of pesticides is necessary to protect pollinators). The low winter temperatures in the higher elevations of the western counties may limit the choice of vinifera grapes,

Recommended grape cultivars

Table and Juice Grapes - Seedless
Variety  
Canadice Small to medium size, early red grape with excellent grape flavor. Long-lived on the vine. Reliable and productive with some rot resistance
Himrod Golden yellow fruit with fine flavor that keeps well. Very cold-hardy; moderate disease resistance.
Mars Very hardy, productive, and dependable. Large, blue fruit that ripens mid-season.
Reliance Dependable, early season variety; very hardy vines. Large, high quality, red fruit will store for 3 months.
Vanessa Red, medium-size fruit ripens mid-season.
                                                        Table and Juice Grapes - Seeded
Variety  
Concord The standard table grape, introduced in 1843. Large, blue-black grapes. Very vigorous and productive vines that are black rot susceptible. Often performs poorly in warm parts of the state.
Niagra A white Concord. Large, attractive fruit makes excellent juice. Very cold-hardy.
Buffalo Similar to Concord but ripens earlier and has some disease resistance. Vigorous vines; heavy bearer.
Steuben Late, very large, blue fruit. Distinctive spicy flavor. Hardy and vigorous with some disease resistance. Ripens before Concord.
Alden Very large, “meaty,” blue-black fruit. Very vigorous vines require close pruning. Ripens before Concord.

Wine grapes

  • Before planting wine grapes (Vitis vinifera), you should visit local wineries and do some research. These grapes require specialized knowledge of site requirements, pruning, and pest management. 
  • V. vinifera cultivars are generally less cold-hardy and more susceptible to black rot than table grape (V. labrusca) cultivars.
  • Wine grapes must be very ripe to make good wines. Table grapes are good even when under-ripe.
  • Canopy management and good exposure of clusters to light is more critical for wine grapes.
  • V. vinifera cultivars that can be successfully grown at home include: Chardonnay (only good sites), Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Cabernet Franc (only good sites), Chambourcin, and Foch.
  • Wine grapes (Vitus vinifera wine types, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and some French-American hybrids such as Seyval) should be budded onto a Phylloxera-resistant rootstock, such as Couoderc 3309. Phylloxera is an aphid-like insect that, in large numbers, severely damages and kills the roots of susceptible grapevines.
  • American table grapes, such as Concord, Niagara, and Catawba are naturally resistant to Phylloxera can be grown successfully without the benefit of a rootstock.

Planting grapes

Min. distance
between rows (ft.)
Between
plants (ft.)
Annual yield
per plant (lbs.)
Yrs. from planting
to first crop
Av. life
span
(years)
                    8

 8 or

6-8 for French-American grapes

varies from 8-25
depends on the variety
and growing conditions 
                   3    20-30

Site selection for growing grapes

  • Plant vines in early spring.
  • They need a full sun location.  
  • Select a site that is free from frost pockets, low wet spots, and exposure to strong, prevailing winds.
  • Sites with early morning sun will allow the foliage to dry more quickly, reducing disease problems. 
  • Good air circulation will help prevent disease problems. Overcrowding frequently results in poor air circulation, weak plants, and low yields.
  • Don’t plant grapevines on a site with difficult perennial weeds like thistle, nutsedge, and bindweed until you’ve controlled them.

Soil

  • Grapes have been cultivated for thousands of years. The grapevine adapts relatively well to a wide range of soils and can be grown and manipulated rather easily. Nevertheless, the soil must drain well. Grapes are deeply rooted in the soil.
  • It is much easier to correct nutrient deficiencies before planting than to continually amend the site. 
  • Take a soil test at least 6 months prior to planting and adjust pH and fertility levels according to test recommendations. Grapes do best in soils that range in pH from 5.8 to 6.8.