How to Start a Small Vineyard

Vine - Field grapevine image by Sebastien Icard from

Many people dream of having a small vineyard to grow grapes and produce wine. Although it requires a lot of planning, preparation and hard work, starting a small vineyard can be a very rewarding and exciting experience, and will provide grapes that can be made into satisfactory wines for years to come.

As long as you put the time into research and utilising all available resources, your small vineyard should be a success.

Learn everything you can about viticulture. This will help you to avoid mistakes as you establish your small vineyard. Look for available information through local university extension courses, websites and books. Seek out local owners of vineyards and people who are growing vines in their backyards and ask them for advice. Arm yourself with knowledge so your vineyard will stand a chance for success.

Choose a site for your vineyard. Select a site with topography suitable for growing grapevines. Consider what the site will require, such as slopes for cool air drainage, adequate sunlight exposure and optimum soil conditions. Take a soil sample for analysis to check for such factors as soil properties, soil fertility and nematodes, which are microscopic, unsegmented roundworms found in soil that may attack grapevines and feed on the root system. Inquire with your local county extension for advice about the soil analysis. Check water rights and water availability for the site.

Choose grape cultivars that are suitable for the area in which you live. For instance, if you live in an area with a cooler climate, you will want to choose cool climate grape varieties, such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat or Chardonnay. Warm climate grapes include the culitvars Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier. Determine the Growing Degree Days (GDD) for your area, which can be obtained form local climate and weather services. Decide on the best cultivars based on the GDD information.

Plan your vineyard. Decide how many vines you need to plant. For instance, you need 9.07 Kilogram of fresh grapes to produce one gallon of wine. So, 20 vines producing 2.27kg. of fruit each will supply enough grapes for 5 gallons of wine. Determine how you will trellis the vines, whether they will be “vertical” or “sprawl.” Choose how much space to have between rows of vines. Consider fencing your vineyard. Settle on an irrigation system.

Prepare your soil. Dig the soil at least 3 feet deep. Plant a cover crop, such as clover or rye, to add nitrogen to the soil and to keep it from eroding during winter months. Amend the soil depending on your soil test results. Ask for assistance from a local agricultural professional.

Obtain grapevines from a reputable nursery. Ensure that the plants have been tested and are free of disease. Once you acquire the vines, plant according to your plan.