Watching the Vines Grow

   Written by on September 18, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Have you read the article about Annefield Vineyards in this edition? If not, you really should go back and find it. Whether you’re a wine drinker or not, it’s amazing to think that those two men who had a dream and a vision are now seeing it all come to fruition (pardon the pun), and in little ol’ Charlotte County, no less.

a walk in the gardenThe first thing I had to do was look up the word varietal. I knew, of course, that the root word is variety, but I did not know how it applied to wine. It is simply a wine made principally from one variety of grape and carrying the name of that grape.

Next, I tried to imagine the dreaming, the planning, the excitement and, certainly the trepidation the owners must have experienced in the years leading up to the Harvest of Wine Grapes on October 4th. Thomas Jefferson failed at growing a classic European wine grape in the challenging climate around Monticello – he, one of the most renown Renaissance men and Virginia gardening experts in the state’s history.  Since then, new grafting technologies and other advances have brought Virginia fully into the wine-grape growing industry. Now, it seems, the emphasis is on careful planning and execution.

There are over 2000 acres of vineyards in Virginia these days. But if you want to try your hand at a vine or two in your own garden, why not? Remember, plan carefully and do the work necessary for your crop to develop.

Choose a well-drained spot where the soil will remain relatively warm all winter. If you don’t know the makeup of your soil, consult your local Extension Agent to determine if you need to add organic amendments. Then, select a grape variety that is best suited for Virginia’s growing conditions. Chardonnay is most the most productive white, while Cabernet Franc is the most-planted red. Additionally, your young grape plants don’t necessarily need to come from Virginia. It’s the variety that matters.

Prepare your site during the fall months. Dig a trench three feet wide and three feet deep then return the soil to the trench. This will give you a workable site. Erect a trellis before you plant your grape vine so that it is not damaged in the process.

Next is the fun part: purchase your vine(s). Bare-rooted vines are the most common. Plant immediately when you get them home so they don’t dry out. Follow nursery instructions as to soaking or trimming the vine root before planting. Plant to a depth that places the rootstock graft two to three inches above the soil surface. Water at planting and during the first year at regular intervals, as well as during dry periods until the vine is fully mature, at about four years.

Prune your vines in the first two years so the vine can establish strong roots, reach the trellis and gain stability. This means trimming away all flower clusters that appear. After that, prune to the trellis you installed.

You may not end up with a Homeowner Red on the table, but I bet you have some juicy grapes to enjoy. And your home may not be the historic Annefield, but it’s your castle. And you may not be tending eight acres of vines, but isn’t it fun to spend some time pruning and watering and tending to that precious little vine, watching it grow.

In the meantime, visit Annefield Vineyards down in Saxe on October 4th and appreciate all the heart that went into this dream come true.

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