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Published August 22, 2009, 07:52 AM

Regionally grown grapes have multiple uses

Visions of Lucille Ball jumping into a vat with hundreds of grapes with her bare feet still flood my memory. It is the tradition of making wine from the fruits of our labor from the soil to maturity. I still laugh at that episode when she slips and falls in a frenzy of stomping. You may think at this point all I do is sit in front of a TV and watch the latest shows, but that is not quite accurate.

By: John Zvirovski, The Jamestown Sun

Visions of Lucille Ball jumping into a vat with hundreds of grapes with her bare feet still flood my memory.

It is the tradition of making wine from the fruits of our labor from the soil to maturity. I still laugh at that episode when she slips and falls in a frenzy of stomping. You may think at this point all I do is sit in front of a TV and watch the latest shows, but that is not quite accurate. It is just the memories of gardening and certain times of the year that allows us to reflect on the things that amuse, touch or entertain us.

Many of you may not be familiar with the fact that we can actually grow grapes in our area for personal use. In fact, you would be amazed to learn how many vineyards and wineries are currently appearing in our very own state. You won’t see the huge bunches of grapes on the vines that sell in the produce section of the stores and you also will not find the types of grapes grown for wine in California, France and Italy. The ones you can grow around our area are much smaller, but still have the same wonderful taste and uses.

Grapes require a little more attention and care over most other garden plants, but with a little discipline and determination you can succeed.

Grapes prefer full sunlight and a fertile, well-drained soil that receives plenty of moisture throughout the growing season. In the large vineyards, they like a south-facing slope that never sits in water and exposes all plants to good sunlight. In the home garden, the same concept applies and they do best in a southern exposure that is protected for optimal results.

When first starting your plants, choose a healthy potted variety with good vegetation and roots. Plant your plants 6 to 8 feet apart to allow for their future growth and maturity. Always trim out the weakest branches and allow only one or two strong ones to grow. It will take an average of three years before your vines are producing a full crop of grapes. Grapes need a structure to grow on after planting such as a trellis, arbor or fence. Traditional vineyard structures have sturdy posts placed in the ground with strong wires that stretch out between them at 36 and 60 inches in height. The plants directly beneath these wires will be tied to them as they reach the prospective heights until they eventually spread horizontally across them. This allows for strong support, good air circulation and maximum sunlight to aid in the success of your grapes.

There are quite a few grapes that are good for our area. Some of the varieties you may find are the “Beta,” which is a deep blue grape that is primarily used for jellies. Then there is the “Bluebell” and the “Valiant” that are other blue grapes that are good for eating and for making jellies. The “Swenson Red” and the “St Croix,” which are red grapes, can be used for wine. And finally the “Kay Gray,” which is a white grape also used for wine making.

Many articles say grapes grown in our area do not make the finest of wines, but they sure make some pretty great ones. Many fruits in our area make great wine such as apples, plums, strawberries, rhubarb and raspberries, to name a few. Not only do they make great wine, but they also make great jelly and baked goods too. I think the wineries of California are just showing some envy with the explosion of diversification in our state’s agriculture.

Grapes need to be pruned severely every spring before they bud to a single central cane and an individual cane per horizontal wire. Only allow two to three buds per cane for spring growth to develop. This will allow for strong and vigorous growth with the maximum potential for flower stems. The flower stems will appear on the new growth from old stems in early spring. After pollination, these stems will become the grape bunches that will grow throughout the summer. Clusters can range from 3 to 8 inches in length and can be very compact to quite loose depending on the variety.

In late summer, these clusters will change in color from green to dark blue or purple. You cannot strictly judge their ripeness by color alone, for this you must actually try the grapes to see if they have reached their sweetness for picking. Strong, vigorous vines can yield anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds of grapes per plant.

I have had some good years with grape production and I have had some years where I am lucky if I can pick an ice cream pail full after a season. Every year proves to be different depending on the conditions of the seasons, so don’t get discouraged if you really want to grow these beautiful plants.

Not only are the fruits great for many different things, but the leaves can be eaten also. In the Mediterranean, people make Greek Dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves. The leaves are picked early in the season when they are the tenderest. They are then blanched and laid out for the filling to be placed upon them. After this, you roll the leaves around the filling like a close-ended burrito and then bake them in a dish. Are you hungry yet?

Grapes have a variety of uses, from jellies, to entrees, to wine and desserts. They will make a romantic evening in more ways than one, but don’t forget the roses to make it complete.

I encourage those who have the desire to grow grapes to give them your best effort for generous rewards in the fall. In fact, the wine season has begun in our area and if you would like to gather more knowledge, I would suggest touring one of the many vineyards in our state.

Today, the Red Trail Winery in Buffalo N.D., is holding its annual tour and festival from 1 to 6:30 p.m. Admission is $20. Children 12 and younger get in free. I would highly recommend it for a fun afternoon. Who knows, maybe you will even catch me there getting into some grape stomping festivities. Enjoy the tradition that welcomes the start of the fall season.

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