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Growing Your Own Wine Grape Vines

The Ultimate Guide to creating your own vineyard

The two most amazing aspects of growing your own vineyard are: it has purpose and it is ancient. Nothing quite wows like, “I’m growing my own wine grapes.” Try saying that with tomatoes or basil. And it’s ancient. You are engaging in a practice that is thousands of years old.

Welcome! You’ve come to the right place. This site is the ultimate, most explicit yet digestible step-by-step guide to growing your own wine grapes.  We’re going to have illustrative illustrations, nifty icons, and even some awesome calculators that will go so far as to tell you what kind of grapes you’re eligible to grow based on where you live and how many you can grow based on the size of your plot (pretty cool, right?!). All to help you plan out your SideYardVineYard so you can focus on being a bad ass wine-growing Roman rather than a plebeian who has to sweat the small stuff. We’ll also have links to buy the necessary supplies to make things easier for you and of course so you can help feed me and my grapes.

My name is Kyle and I created this site after going through exactly what you’re going through and about to embark on. When I wanted to figure out how to grow my own little vineyard, I scoured the internet and even bought a few books. But I found most how-to resources to be either hopelessly vague or ridiculously voluminous. Goes without saying, we’re not liable if things don’t work out, please review our Terms of Use for more. With all that said, I hope this is as rewarding of an experience for you as it was for me, and that this how-to provides you an entertaining and helpful guide on your journey to becoming a wine grower!

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GRAPE

Grape selection is determined by your region’s climate. Use our tool to see what you can grow.

One of the most exciting aspects of designing your own vineyard is deciding what kind of grapes you will grow.

Determining Grape Type
Click on the image below then enter your zip code, we’ll tell you what grapes might work for you based on the zone and average temperatures of your region. You can manually adjust what you’re eligible to grow by increasing the temperature tolerance below the field where you enter your zip code.

One variable not reflected in this calculator is humidity. Intense humidity isn’t good for vines because it promotes disease. So although you might check all the boxes from a temperature and hardiness perspective, if you’re area is known for intense humidity, it may not work for you and you’ll have to reach out to local resources to find out what grapes might work.

In addition, a vague rule of thumb you’ll want to apply is “go for the easier ones.” In other words, if you know a grape is finicky, like Pinot Noir, you might want to opt for an easier one, like Cab Franc. This is also where some local recon can be handy. If you’re area is known for growing a type of grape, then you’ll likely want to go with that.

What Kind of Transplant
There are two types of transplants: green and dormant. Dormant, which are typical for online vendors, are higher risk higher reward. When you plant them, they awake and are like “ok this is my existence, this is all I know”, while the greens are like “oh dude why did you move me from the comfy nursery, I’m gonna grow up with issues”. Dormants likely have a better long-term prospect, but it might have permanently died in the dormancy and transplanting process. Ultimately, I’d recommend going with dormants.

Ordering Grapevines
There are several online vendors who have a wide selection of grape varietals to choose from. Word to the wise and properly setting expectations, keep in mind you’re ordering agricultural products and that these vendors aren’t exactly Amazon Prime. Also note that some vine vendors can’t ship to certain states due to agricultural restrictions. It likely takes a few weeks for the vines to arrive, so plan accordingly with when you’ll be planting. When you order, be sure to include planting sleeves, which are a rectangular paper sleeve that you place over the vine for the first few weeks after it’s planted.

Dormant Wine Grape Vine Vendors

Harvest Express
Based in California, wide variety

Double A Vineyards
Wide selection, doesn’t ship to West Coast

GrowOrganic
Based in California, informative, great prices

GrapeVines Galore
Great selection, California-based

See all Vendors

If you are a member of a wine club, you could see if they are willing to give you a few dormant cuttings of their vines. Some do this already! Lastly, there is the option of seeing what green vines are available at your local nurseries.

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Land

your sideyard vineyard should get plenty of sun. Use our tool to determine how many vines, rows and vines per row you can fit.

First things first, you need a plot of land to engage in this cockamamie scheme your spouse is likely very skeptical of. This is great for side yards (hence the name of our website) and areas that get too much sun to keep grass and aren’t really doing anything for you. Ideally this plot of land has a slope so it’s naturally well drained. That’s a phrase you’ll hear a lot. Grape growers are like Spartans meet Darwin, you want your vines to not be too nourished or well watered, because they evolve to yield more yet smaller grapes (meaning more skin less water in the grape for wine making) in an effort to reproduce out of the hell you’ve made for them.

Most importantly though, is sun. You want lots of good sun. We’re talking around 7 hours a day. Fortunately, so long as you’re in the continental United States, you already get enough sun hours during the growing season. So what matters is your vineyard capitalizes on the ample sunshine allotted to the US of A. That means limiting the shade from fences or buildings that falls onto your vineyard, as well as orienting it toward the sun. It’s ideal for your land to be on a southwest axis.

Dimensions & Orientation
Now we’ll need to determine how much land we’re working with, because that will dictate how many rows, vines per row and therefore how many vines you’ll want to plant. Also part of this is the orientation of your rows. The orientation of your rows, or how they are facing, is important because it affects how much sun they get and how many vines you can fit.

Calculations
Click on the image below then enter the width and length of the plot, as well as what orientation you’ll be doing. Additionally, click each side of the box within the tool below to indicate whether the perimeter of your vineyard is enclosed (i.e. by a building or tall wood fence), somewhat open (chain fence, short shrubs) or completely open. After you enter the info, some directions will appear so scroll down within the tool. If you have more than one plot, just do it however many times you need.

A fully grown grape vine can yield enough grapes to produce 2-3 bottles of wine. So take however many vines the tool above provided you, and multiply it by 2 or 3 to get a sense of how many bottles you can ultimately produce when your vines are fully grown in four to five years.

If you want to have one row of grape vines and do this on a deck or with pots, it is possible. But keep in mind though most of a grape vine’s roots go 2 feet deep, some can go far, far deeper. So if you do decide to go down that path, you’ll want 2 feet deep pots and may be looking at less than optimal growth.

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SOIL

GRape Vines Like quick draining soil, which is called sandy loam.

How to Test Your Soil
It helps to know what you’re working with ahead of time. The ideal method is to have your soil tested, which supposedly can be done for free by your local agricultural school. But if you’re like me, you’ve already burnt more hours than you planned on this project and don’t have a lot of patience for figuring that out. So a quick at-home test is to scoop up a bit of your soil, put it in a mason jar, add water, shake it for a few minutes, then let it settle over night.

You ideally want sandy loam, which is 65% sand, 20% loam and 15% clay. In terms of your mason jar test, that means the more stratified & settled the soil (and clearer the water) the better. You’ll want to see the majority of the soil as visible sand particles. On the other hand, if the water remains pretty murky the following morning, you have clay soil.

How to Augment
Don’t lose heart if you have clay. My soil was so hard, I thought the flipper of my house covered up concrete with grass, that’s how hard it was. We’re talking Jurassic Park kind of clay. Anyways, augment your soil by buying top soil and adding organic matter like compost or perlite, then work it into your native soil. If you need to break up the native clay, get a pick axe, cultivator and wheel barrel. Obviously the holes you dig for your vines (more in the section below) will need to be augmented. But it would be good if you broaden the zone you’re working on so as your grape vines roots expand they enjoy this improved soil.

Acidity is another thing. Remember pH from high school chemistry? Yes its back and you’re finally going to use it! There is a link to an inexpensive pH tester below. You’re looking for a pH of around 5.5. If you need to lower it or increase it you can get liquid augmenters you work into the new soil.

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SITE PREP

With your calculations, measure the layout and prep the site for planting.

Measure and Layout
Now this is actually one of the most important steps of creating your vineyard and something you’ll want to pay a lot of attention to. A major aspect of having a vineyard is it’s aesthetic beauty. But it’s also important because you can’t easily move your grape vines once they’re planted, or trellis once you’ve constructed it. So with your plot’s dimensions and spacing from the above calculator handy, buy some wood stakes and string then measure and layout your SideYardVineYard.

Trellis
The trellis is a cornerstone of the vineyard. But I have a radically different take on this. Don’t build a grand trellis the first year. You are a newb, trellises are not exactly an Ikea project. Some of your vines or even all of them might die and you don’t want to have a monument mocking you. More practically, your vines aren’t going to be big enough the first year to warrant a trellis. The first year, go with a stake and bamboo sticks. If they make it past your first winter, build the trellis.

Dig Holes & Soil Prep
One-by-one, remove the wood stake you inserted as a placeholder during the layout phase and dig a hole. The hole should be about 18 inches deep, one foot wide to start, though may need to change based on the size of the rootstock you eventually get. At the bottom of each hole, lay a handful or two of compost, ideally in a ring so it encourages the roots of the vine to branch out.

Off to the side, prepare your soil. Take your native soil, purchased soil and acid or base adder to make a tasty stew. Test the new soil with the pH tester to make sure it’s around 5.5. Also, you’ll want to do a quick soil draining test. Use one of the holes as a guinna pig, filling it with your augmented soil. Pour water in the area until it pools. If the water drains through within 30 minutes, you’re looking good. If it stays collected for longer than that, you’ll want to augment the soil more so it’s more quick draining.

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PLANTING

On the big day, have an assembly line mentality to plant your VULNERABLE vines

At last it is time for the big day! Aim for a cooler day in early Spring. Also keeping in mind if you ordered online what day delivery occurs. You’ll want to prepare all your stuff ahead of time. That’s because the transplants are prone to shock. If there is a lag between getting the vines and planting—or while you are planting them, keep them in a cool spot, covered and in the shade. You may want to soak them for an hour prior to planting as well.

Once you get started, keep a hose handy and set on mister, so you can mist the little guys when you pull them out. Also mist the soil you’ll be placing in with the vine. When you insert the rootstock into the dug hole, make sure the little roots have room and aren’t bunched against the walls of the hole. Then gently scoop in the damp soil so you slowly bury the vine. You’ll only want an inch or two of the rootstock sticking out from the ground. Then water the vine and soil, and pack in the soil to eliminate major air pockets. Insert a bamboo stick an inch or two adjacent to the rootstock, with care as too not injure the roots, and also on the opposite side of where the sun hits the vine. Finally, envelope the vine and bamboo stick with a planting sleeve.

In summary, once you start, have an assembly line mentality: dirt, insert root stock, bamboo stick, sleeve, water, next.

FIRST SEASON

You’ll do lots of pruning the first season as you aim to get your vine to crown.

It might take a few weeks before you see any sign of life. You’ll start wondering whether you’re an idiot who just planted a stick farm. Then, suddenly, you’ll see a miraculous little pink-white bud on the vine. That is life. It is a stunning event. After all your work and plotting and prepping, you just took something that was dormant and brought it back to life. It’s truly an awesome moment you should remember.

Terminology Overview
Now let’s get into some terminology down. Prune is a euphemism for cutting and trimming. Rootstock is the transplant, aka little trunk aka little stick you received and planted. A bud is the pink, rose colored fuzzy looking thing that emerges on the rootstock. From a bud, a shoot emerges. The shoot is the green (eventually) pencil-thick vine that comes from the bud. The strongest shoot eventually becomes the trunk. It will also have buds and therefore shoots that grow from it, as well as leaves and tendrils, which are its natural way of grabbing onto things. The two shoots that become horizontal are called Cordons. This will all make more sense as you read below.

Training and Pruning
You’ll likely have a few buds that appear on the root and therefore a few shoots that break from the buds. Eventually, you’ll just want to go with one shoot—the strongest. Give it some time and determine which of the shoots is the strongest (thickest, fastest growing, highest). It might feel scary and counter intuitive pruning. Cutting vines feels wrong. But you need to because it concentrates the energy onto the one shoot. Add some fertilizer in a ring around the vine as the buds start to break. As the shoot you chose grows, use garden ties to gently wrap them around the bamboo stick. Not too tight like a tourniquet. It’s like you’re suggesting to the shoot, “hey come take a load off this way.” In terms of watering, be sure to keep your new vines hydrated. “Dry farming” is a popular and effective technique for mature vines. But drying out vulnerable first year vines probably isn’t a great idea.

In the first season, that green shoot may grow anywhere between 2 feet to 6 feet long depending on its potency and success. In addition to buds on the rootstock, the green shoot you chose will itself have buds break and shoots growing from it.

Getting the “T” also Known as Crowning
At about 3 ½-4 ft is where the first level of trellis should be. That is, where the vine becomes horizontal. At anywhere between 3-4 feet, you want to bend and train the vine to go horizontal. You’re also looking for another shoot to break around that area so you can have two shoots training on the horizontal trellis to form a “T.” These two shoots become what is called Cordons. Another strategy is, instead of bending your original vine, you can cut it (yes you read right, cut the main vine) and then select two shoots that emerge below where you cut. When you cut the vine, it sends an emergency signal to “give it all she’s got captain”, thereby surging and focusing energy onto those two shoots.

Now you’re saying, how can we get a T if you told us to go with a bamboo stick?! Well, this is where you Macygver it by making a cross with another bamboo stick using duct tape. It looks terrible, like a graveyard made with bamboo. But it gets you through the first year until you’ve seen your vines have survived and you’re ready for the commitment of a trellis.

As the First Season Draws to a Close
Before winter, make sure you have burlap handy in case of prolonged freezing temperatures. There won’t likely be any winter pruning you will need to do.

Whether your vines grew 1 foot or 6, you should be very proud of your commitment and what you’ve done! But don’t get too excited—your journey has just begun! It can take 4-5 years before your first harvest. And then there is that whole wine making thing. But like most things in life, showing up is half that battle. And in this case we’ll interpret “showing up” as “getting started!” You can further take solace in the knowledge that what you just planted, can live and produce grapes for over 100 years.

We’ll now leave you with an absolutely awesome graphic illustrating a time lapse of a grape vine growing, from rootstock to grapes. This would take multiple years and skips over the off-season, but it will help you visualize your grape vine’s growth. It also includes some handy instructional call outs!

If you have any feedback let us know! And we’d love for you to share your SideYardVineYard progress when you’re ready on our blog! Good luck and enjoy the journey!