There is a lot of interest in growing grapes in the Cape May area now. This year’s September Food and Wine Festival affords the opportunity to visit these enchanting places.
People have always grown grapes in southern New Jersey, and we have history of wine making for over 200 years. One of the oldest wineries in existence today in New Jersey is Renault Winery, which began in 1864. According to the Garden State Wine Grower’s Association, during the Prohibition, Renault produced sacramental wines and medicinal “tonics.” In the 1800s the wine and grape juice industry was concentrated in Vineland (named for its vineyards), Cumberland County. Dr. Thomas Welch, a prohibitionist dentist, started Welch’s grape juice there. There were many immigrants in southern New Jersey who first grew grapes to make the wines they were used to drinking with their meals. Most had grown grapes all their lives and did it naturally. Each fall, making wine was also part of the local harvest.
Some folks, like me, grow grapes aesthetically to add a quaint look to a structure in the years. The grapes are good for making jelly, but that is the most we do with them. I call it real grape jelly when lots of fresh grapes are used to make a natural grape-rich jelly or jam. Follow the easy recipes on any pectin box and enjoy local grapes at their best.
For others who want to make wine, growing grapes can be a more complex and even time-consuming project. The climate and soil conditions in an area can dictate which grapes to grow. Helpful advice is free from the county extension service. It is best to choose a grape variety (or a few grape varieties) appropriate for your needs. It may take your plants a few years after being planted to produce grapes.
If you do not need a lot of grapes, try to buy established plants that are grown in containers, some may already have a few grapes on them. If you send for your vines and they are bare, root, sake and plant as soon as they arrive. If this is not possible, bury them and keep them moist until you can plant them. Do not let them dry out.
Plant your grapevines at least 8 to 10 feet apart in rich, well-drained soil. The soil can be in sandy or rocky soil since this drains well.
Good drainage is most important to grow good grapes. Even though grapes need well-drained soil, they still need plenty of water during the first month or so after they are planted. After planting, soak the entire root and keep them moist for the first few months. Keep the area under the plants weed free and add a layer of compost to insure sturdy healthy plants.
As the grapes grow, you need to train them on a trellis or arbor. The county extension service has pamphlets on this. They will also tell about pruning which is important to help the energy go toward making fruit. Pruning is often done in late February or early March. New vines grow from buds on last year’s vines. Keep your vines pruned to allow maximum airflow and sunlight to reach the vines and fruit.
You will also want to protect your grape plants from pests, such as insects, birds, and mildew or fungus. Birds will try to eat the grapes as they ripen. You can guard the fruit by throwing a net over the vines and fruit when it gets close to harvest time. Make sure the net is pulled tight to prevent the birds from getting caught under the net, and being injured. Growing grapes in a sunny location, with an abundance of air circulation can help cut down on powdery mildew and fungus growth. Sulfur and copper are natural fungicides that will help the homeowner naturally.
I have been told that it is time to pick grapes when the bottom and middle of the cluster are ripe. Taste to determine whether the fruit is ripe. Wine makers often test their grapes with a kit to check the sugar levels and pH in the fruit to determine whether the fruit is ripe.
Our grapes are the nursery cover a wood structure and make shade on our potting table. They look pretty and add some charm to our potting area. I usually forget to spray them with fungicide so the humidity takes a toll.
It is fun to go to a winery for wine tasting. I have many friends who like to make wine. It is fun, but a lot of work. The Cape May wineries are great to visit. Check out the upcoming food and wine festival date for visits to the local wineries. Some Cape May restaurants also provide the local wine. Enjoy.
Lorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email Lorraine@tripleoaks.com for garden help or leave your questions below! www.tripleoaks.com