The Grape Vine

'Vitis vinifera'

Well-known for their love of wine, it was the Romans who first brought wine to the British Isles. Only very recent archaeological investigations, however, have uncovered evidence of vineyards established on British soil during the Roman occupation.

The Domesday Book records 38 vineyards in England, but it’s only in the last few that Britain has begun to establish a flourishing wine industry. You don’t need acres of rolling hillside upon which to grow a vineyard – with a little care and attention a single vine in even the smallest of spaces can produce a healthy crop of tasty grapes.

Grape vines are quick to grow and so are excellent for quickly covering bare spaces in the garden and creating leafy Mediterranean nooks.


PLANTING

Find the sunniest possible position for your new vine - a south facing site is preferable to catch maximum ripening sun. Vines will thrive in most soils but avoid planting in a frost pocket and choose a well-drained site to avoid water logging the roots. Grape vines will also grow happily in a large container in a sunny spot on the patio or in a greenhouse or unheated conservatory. Ensure the pot has adequate drainage holes and throw some gravel or crocks in the bottom. We recommend using a terracotta, rather than plastic, container and using John Innes No. 3 compost.

Grape vines may be planted at any time of year as long as the ground isn’t frozen. Dig a hole twice the size of the root-ball, spreading the roots gently as you refill the hole to the base of the stem. Press the soil down with the heel of a boot. Young growth will be vigorous but brittle so ensure that adequate support is provided, they are happy to clamber over a trellis or pergola or can be trained along wires secured with sturdy posts. 

PRUNING

Allow unrestricted growth for the first summer, and in January prune away everything except for one long shoot growing from the main stem. Bunches of grapes will grow on new shoots from this year-old stalk.

Removing all flowers for the first two years after planting will encourage stronger stem growth. You can then allow three bunches of grapes to grow on three-year-old vines and about five bunches the following year. After this time you can allow the vine to crop freely, simply removing any overcrowded or damaged fruits. In September it’s sensible to begin to remove leaves to allow air to circulate and expose the stems to sunlight. Any awkward, damaged or unproductive stems should be removed during the winter.

WATERING

Water deeply and regularly in spring (if the weather is dry) and throughout summer whilst the grapes swell and ripen but do not water erratically as this may cause the fruit to split. Container grown plants will require more careful watering and can rapidly parch in hot weather, especially in terracotta pots.

They may also more easily become waterlogged so should stand on pot feet to allow water to drain away. All vines should be watered more sparingly throughout winter.

FEEDING

Grape vines are hungry and will benefit from a regular feed every four weeks throughout the growing season with either blood, fish and bone or liquid seaweed fertiliser. In spring your vine will appreciate a mulch with a layer of woodchips to suppress weeds.

This mulch will be beneficial throughout the summer to keep the soil cool and help it to retain moisture.

IN WINTER

During winter the vine will be dormant and leafless and you will see that the top is covered in wax, this is there to protect the graft so should not be removed and it will come away naturally as the vine grows.

The vine may arrive ‘root wrapped.’ We have carefully rolled the root ball in damp moss, wrapped it in plastic to retain the moisture and placed it into an attractive hessian bag. A root wrapped plant should be kept outside or in a cool, sheltered place such as a shed. 

Kept indoors they will become confused and begin to bud early, which will damage the young plant. When the final frosts have passed , the moss and plastic wrapping may then be removed before planting.

Vines are hardy but may require some winter protection for the first few years. In heavy snow or particularly severe winter weather even established vines may be damaged but are easily protected with a wrap of hessian or fleece.