Since the 1960s there has been a great upsurge of interest in the growing of grapes outdoors, with hundreds of acres being planted for wine-making. Unfortunately, the long, hot dry summers which vines love are rare in Britain, and in some years virtually no wine has been produced from all these acres. The owner of a garden wall, however, is the lucky possessor of a micro-climate which vines love: it has been found that grapes grown on a south-facing wall are a full three weeks ahead of the same variety grown in open ground nearby. This vital extra three weeks in a short growing season – vines do not burst their buds till May – gives the fruit an extra three weeks to ripen, and means the difference between success and failure in most English summers. A south-facing wall allows grape-growers in the north to succeed with white varieties, and growers in the south to ripen black grapes as well.
A number of varieties have been found to be most successful in Britain. ‘Madeleine Angevine’ and ‘Madeleine Sylvarter’ are white eating grapes which are also used commercially here for wine-making. They ripen early, so are suitable for northern areas. In the south they ripen too early, and attract wasps. White varieties best for the south are ‘Reichensteiner’, a new German cultivar, and ‘Chardonnay’, the French champagne grape, which ripens later but tolerates chalk. Both are wine grapes which can be used for eating. The best black grape for growing outdoors in Britain is ‘Pinot Noir’, the Burgundy wine grape which can also be eaten.
General care: Plant any time in the winter in ordinary, well-drained soil. Cut back to two buds about 30 cm (12 inches) from soil level. In the spring tie the shoots that grow from these buds to canes placed against the wall, and rub out any other buds or shoots which appear. In the winter of the same year bring the two shoots down and tie them to a horizontal wire about 30 cm (12 inches) from the ground. Those are the next year’s fruiting shoots. In the following spring grow two more new shoots, to be used as replacement fruiting shoots. That winter, prime out the two horizontal shoots which have just fruited, and tie in the replacement fruiting shoots.
Continue in this way each year, removing the fruited shoots and replacing them with new wood. The 30-cm (12-inch) high plant you started with will form a trunk. If you have room on the wall, you can allow a vertical shoot to grow about the original trunk,it back about 30 cm (12 inches), and training it as before on a second horizontal wire, and so on up the wall in an espalier system. Vines are very vigorous, and one plant will happily cover a wall in this way. If you are growing grapes for eating, you really must thin quite drastically by carefully out some of the berries in each bunch, to allow the rest enough space to get bigger. If you are growing for wine-making this is not necessary.
Propagation: Hardwood, taken in the winter, readily. Use wood the thickness of a pencil, and cut into eye- about 5 cm (2 inches) long or long cuttings about 22.5 cm (9 inches) long. Strike in a 50-50 sand and peat mixture.
Pests and diseases: Birds are the chief pest, removing individual berries from bunches as they ripen. Netting is the best answer. Wasps will eat the grapes if these are ripe when they are about. Avoid this by planting varieties that ripen after the wasps have disappeared. Powderyforms a white powder on and fruit, and causes the grapes to split. Dust with sulphur powder once a fortnight. Downy causes yellow patches on the leaves, with mildew on the under-side. Spray every two weeks with zineb.