A Small Vineyard

Around nine years ago, I got an inkling to grow grapes.  I do not know exactly what piqued my interested in the subject of growing grapes.  I was not, and still am not much a oenophile.   I will have a glass here and there, and will always be keen for a Malbec or Foch if offered.

We were living in the Duluth, MN, area at the time, and we had limited planting space in our modest quarter-acre yard.   A space maybe four feet wide by thirty feet long; it certainly would not be able to house enough vines to produce enough grapes to make a carboy-worth of wine, it would at least be an experiment.

In late winter, I placed an orderfor a half-dozen Frontenac vines from a place in Iowa.  Frontenac seemed like an interesting varietal.  It had its origins in Minnesota and seemed to have hardiness

that might work in the Duluth area (USDA Zone 3b).  And that was about all I put into which varietal to get.  Nothing

really about the potential type of wine or even consumable juice would be produced.   I really did not care whether it

was white or red, foxy tasty, or any of a host of other characteristics one might want.

The vines arrived, and with the help of a friend, we got them planted.  And we waited.  Over the time we remained in the Duluth area (until May 2012, when we moved), the vines ebbed and flowed with the seasons, dying back to the ground after a particularly harsh winter.  The vines did produce a few clusters of grapes, but nothing more.

…and we moved.

Here in St. Paul, MN, up until last year, we had only planted a few juice/jelly grapes – mostly the varietal Beta With none of these vines producing grapes, yet.  Last year, however, the inkling to plant a small vineyard came back.

In late spring of last year, we cleared a stand of buckthorn and mulberry trees on the north side of our property – behind our house – it’s roughly an area of 1,200 square feet.  The area has a decent amount of sun exposure in the summer from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.  We tilled the soil – mostly to remove the grass, and loosen things up.  Tilling was also useful to loosen the many buckthorn stumps.

In late winter of the previous year, prior to clearing the stand of buckthorns and mulberries, we decided we would grow the varietal Maréchal Foch.  I had recently tried a bottle from a local vineyard, and, as with Ogdan Nash’s poem, Termiteand how the termite tasted it, and found it good [in relation to wood], I tasted the Foch from St. Croix Vineyards, and found it good.

In January of last year, with a bit searching, I located a nursery and vineyard that sells Foch – Aberfoyle Vineyard & Nursery, which happens to be in Minnesota.  I placed an order for 25 potted Foch vines.  More waiting – mostly because it was winter.

With the trees removed, the ground turned over, and most of the stumps gone, we put a relatively simple fence around the space; we have hounds, and hounds are curious critters, and I could see them wandering off with neat bunches of grapes in your mouth.

The potted vines arrived in April of last year, and with the help of my wife and her sister, we got all 25 vines planted, and we waited.

Winter passed, and all the vines survived.  Once the vines had a bit of growth, we put wood stakes in place and loosely tied each vine up.  As an aside, if we were doing this on a larger scale, I would certainly be using grow tubes to train the growth.  On the topic of larger grow operations, the spacing we chose for the grapes would be generally be considered too close.  It would be too narrow for any machinery to be driven down, but with a row length of around 35 feet, I do not intend to drive anything down the rows.  We will have to keep an eye out for issues with air circulation, too, with the rows being somewhat narrow.

With the vines staked, and with a considered amount of growth having occurred since we staked the grapes, it was time to get the posts and wire trellis installed.  Using a two-stroke, single person post hole auger, I set to work on getting postholes made.

We used 12 gauge, stainless steel orchard wire, as well as using one-way wire anchor vises – which, I have to say, are probably the damn coolest device I’ve come across in a while.   We decided upon using a top cordon trellis system, so, there is just one wire, 66″ above the ground.  Generally, two vines from each trunk is brought up (trained) to the top wire, and then it simply grows down the wire.

Time will tell if we are able to produce enough grapes to make a bit of wine.