How to Grow Common Grape Vines (Vitis Vinifera)

European Native Different From Its American Cousin

Bunches of common European grapes hanging from trellis.

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In This Article

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

There are thousands of varieties of Vitis vinifera, although only a small proportion of these are commercially important. A large proportion of popular grape wines are formed from cultivars of this species.

While primarily thought of as wine grapes, the fruits can also be dried to make raisins. This species tends makes for inferior table grapes, however, and they are not as commonly used for this purposes commercially.

The table grapes that we buy fresh at supermarkets to snack on are usually cultivars of Vitis rotundifolia and of Vitis labrusca, which are North American natives. Table grapes have a thin skin, making them better for eating than the grapes intended for wine production.

Like many vines that climb, it bears tendrils that help it clasp objects to pull itself up off the ground. Its 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.

If you are growing this species to make wine, be aware that the common grape is a fussy vine to grow. It needs a long, warm climate to produce a good harvest and it can be prone to many pests and diseases.

 Botanical Name  Vitis vinifera
 Common Name  Common grape, European grape, wine grape
 Plant Type  Woody, deciduous, fruiting vine
 Mature Size  Can 40 to 60 ft long, usually pruned to 3 to 9 feet 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

Common Grapes Care

When planting, choose a location sheltered from high and cold winds. Also, avoid locations known to be frost pockets as new growth is often damaged by late spring frosts.

The myriad of disease and insect pests that attack the common grape make growing it a high-maintenance operation.

One of the few facts about the common grape that provides good news regarding maintenance is that is self-pollinating.

The growing requirements can vary considerably, depending on the variety or cultivar selected, so do your research before planting.

Light

The common grape needs full sun to bear the best possible crop.

Soil

In keeping with its Mediterranean associations, the common grape requires well-drained soil. It will also appreciate a location that has a 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 assuring that you will avoid overwatering.

Fertilizer

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

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

Varieties of Vitis Vinifera

Although there are thousands of Vitis Vinifera varieties, only 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 regions growing conditions and what wine you enjoy the taste of.

  • 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 is vitally important to help produce a good crop and reduce incidences of fungus-based diseases.

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:

As if all of this were not bad enough, numerous insects eat the common grape plant (commercial growers must spray their vineyards to prevent infestations from these pests), including: