How to Grow Common Grape Vines (Vitis Vinifera)

European Native Different From Its American Cousin

Common cabernet sauvignon grape vines with blue grapes

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The common grape (Vitis vinifera) is grown to make wine and is European in origin. In fact, "European grape" is another common name, as is "wine grape."

There are thousands of varieties of Vitis vinifera, although only a small portion of these are commercially important. On the other hand, a large portion of popular grape wine is produced from cultivars of this species. While primarily thought of as wine grapes, the fruits can also be dried to make raisins. This species yields inferior table grapes, however, and is not commonly used for this purpose commercially.

Like many vines that climb, the wine grapes bear clasping tendrils that help keep the vines off the ground. Leaves are held on long stalks and have three to seven lobes. Each leaf has coarsely toothed edges and the undersides bear tiny hairs. The fruits (berries) vary in size, shape, and color. The vines have a rapid growth rate and are best planted in early spring.

 Botanical Name Vitis vinifera
 Common Name Common grape, European grape, wine grape
 Plant Type Woody, deciduous, fruiting vine
 Mature Size Can grow 40–60 ft. long, usually pruned to 3–9 ft. high, with a similar spread, for wine production
 Sun Exposure Full sun
 Soil Type Well-drained, rich, loamy, medium-moist
 Soil pH 6.5
 Bloom Time May to June
 Flower Color Light green
 Hardiness Zones 6 to 9, USA
 Native Area Europe and Southwestern Asia
Toxicity Toxic to dogs

How to Plant Common Grapes (Vitis Vinifera)

Growing requirements can vary considerably, depending on the variety or cultivar selected, so it will pay off to do your research before planting. When planting, choose a location sheltered from high and cold winds. Avoid locations known to be frost pockets as new growth is often damaged by late spring frosts.

The myriad diseases and insect pests that attack the common grape make growing it a high-maintenance operation. One bit of good news about the common grape is it is self-pollinating, making it unnecessary to plant additional vines for pollination.

Common Grape Care

Light

The common grape needs full sun to bear the best possible crop. Vines planted on a gentle Southeast facing slope often tend to produce well.

Soil

In keeping with its native Mediterranean roots, the common grape requires well-drained soil. It will also appreciate a location that has loamy soil rich in organic matter.

Water

Give your crop adequate but not excessive water. Irrigate well during periods of drought. The ground should be kept evenly moist. Providing good drainage is an important first step in preventing overwatering.

Fertilizer

If your grapes are already growing in soil rich in organic matter, you can supplement this natural fertilizer every year with 1/2 cup of a balanced fertilizer when the first spring growth appears. In the plant's first year, apply the same amount of fertilizer a second time after four weeks have passed.

Apply the fertilizer no closer to the base of the plant than one foot. It is better to spread it across the area that lies four to five feet away from the base in all directions. This practice promotes superior root development.

Temperature and Humidity

Vitis vinifera varieties are known for being less cold-hardy than American grape species, so they usually do best in regions with hardiness zones of 6 and above. Some varieties, however, are known for being more cold-hardy than others. Generally, however, they need a long, warm climate to produce a good harvest.

Given their propensity towards fungal diseases, this grape species doesn't tolerate high humidity well either.

Common grape vines with yellowing red leaves and light red grapes
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
Common kerner grape vines with light yellow grapes
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
Common grape vines with red and green leaves and light red grapes
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
Common grape vines lined in orchard with dark blue grapes hanging in center
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
Common grape vine with red and yellow leaves and light red grapes hanging closeup
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Varieties of Vitis Vinifera

Although there are thousands of Vitis Vinifera varieties, a limited number of these are used for wine production. They are ones that work well in specific regional climates and produce palatable wines.

Just a handful of the many popular common grape varieties that are suited to being grown in North America are outlined below. Do your research, though, as there are lots to choose from and much will depend on your region's growing conditions and what type of wine you enjoy. Specific varieties produce red or white wines with a wide range of characteristics that influence taste and flavor.

  • Chardonnay: This white wine grape, originally from France, is more cold-hardy than many other Vitis vinifera varieties and this makes it easier to grow in a wider number of North American regions. It produces an early and reliable fruit but is highly susceptible to Botrytis bunch rot.
  • Pinot blanc: Originating in Germany, this white wine grape is similarly cold-hardy to Chardonnay, but is not as plagued by problems with Botrytis bunch rot.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: This popular red grape variety is also known for being more cold-hardy and disease resistant than many of its relatives. Wine quality can vary, however, and the best results are achieved in warmer regions.
  • Pinot Noir: Known for producing high-quality red table wines, this variety ripens early and is relatively cold-hardy. Unfortunately, it is another one that can be impacted adversely by bunch rot. Careful vine management in terms of pruning and air circulation is needed to produce a successful crop.

Pruning

Spacing, pruning, and training the vines adequately are vitally important to produce a good crop and reduce incidences of fungus-based diseases. Most grape varieties will need several seasons before bearing a harvestable crop. Here again, it is important to do the research in order to learn about viable arboring and staking systems and appropriate pruning techniques for the first few years of growth.

Propagating Common Grapes

Common grapes are commonly propagating from dormant, mature wood cuttings. Year-old growth works best and the cutting should be around 12 inches long and have a few buds on it.

The cutting can be dipped in rooting hormone and then put in moist but not saturated soil. It is always a good idea to plant up more cuttings than needed as not all of them are likely to take.

Growing Common Grapes From Seed

Germination can take up to 12 months for common grapes grown from seed. Sowing in a cold frame is recommended and the seeds should go through a one to two-month cold stratification period to increase the chances of successful germination.

Common Pests/Diseases

Give your vines ample spacing to ensure good air circulation. This is important for disease control. The common grape is notoriously prone to diseases, which include:

The common grape also is susceptible to numerous insects (commercial growers must spray their vineyards to prevent infestations from these pests), including:

As the vines mature and begin to produce fruit, it may become necessary to provide netting to prevent birds and other wildlife from devouring your hard-won crop.