Growing Grapes

This section guides you through the perils and pitfalls of grape growing, from pest control to site suitability to economic factors. Whether you're a grape grower, winemaker or wine educator, you'll find information you can apply toward your individual needs.

In this section: Economics of Grape Production | Site Suitability | Pest Management | FAQs | North Carolina Grape Varieties

Economics of Grape Production

To be successful, grape growers must make sound decisions from initial planning through harvest and sale of fruit. Vineyard establishment and operating costs can vary significantly within a region due to differences in cost for land, labor, machinery and materials.

The following resources can help you with decisions about:

  • Land
  • Land preparation
  • Labor
  • Grape vines
  • Trellis materials
  • Pest management materials
  • Debt on loans and more

The North Carolina Winegrape Grower's Guide provides grape growers with practical information on site selection, establishment and operation of commercial vineyards. It also includes a chapter on spring frost control and examines the pros and cons of active frost protection systems.

Be sure to see Chapter 2 of the Grower's Guide for an economic analysis of grape growing.

Also see:

Contact your county's Horticulture Cooperative Extension Agent for additional information and advice.

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Site Suitability

When deciding where to establish a vineyard, you will need to consider multiple factors for production, including climate, elevation and suitable grape varieties.

The maps below are provided to help in decision making and are not recommendations for or against any site or area. Because they are not all-inclusive in terms of conditions at the particular site, they should not replace an on-site evaluation which may reveal other potential positive or negative aspects. These maps were generated by John Boyer, a Virginia Tech geographer. For an explanation of factors to consider in site selection read Dr. Tony Wolf's Virginia Tech publication Vineyard Site Selection.

Also see the following climate and weather resources for help planning your vineyard, maintenance programs and harvest:

  • Weather Information for Horticulture from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. These leaflets cover frost protection, climate considerations, growing season, solar radiation and wind.
  • Agricultural Weather Information Service Inc. (AWIS) charges a fee ($50 per month, 3-month minimum, $10 set-up fee) to log onto their site for information. For example, one of the reports they offer is a frost/freeze report that predicts 60 hours in advance. For each hour they predict dry bulb temperature, dew point, wet bulb temperature, wind speed, wind direction, cloud cover, inversion layer strength and dew and/or frost. This includes everything you would need to know for irrigation/wind machine start-up. The referenced page lets you look at samples of all of the various reports.

 

 

Zone 1

 

Vinifera

Hybrid

American Varieties

Most Desirable Site

None

None

Possibly Niagra, Norton, Most Muscadine Grapes: Carlos, Magnolia, Noble, Sterling, Fry, Nesbitt

Good Site

None

None

Most Muscadine Grapes: Carlos, Magnolia, Noble, Sterling

Risky Site

None

None

Carlos, Magnolia, Noble

Zone 2

 

Vinifera

Hybrid

American Varieties

Most Desirable Site

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Mataro (Mourvedre), Merlot, Viognier, Tannat, Carmine, Syrah, Petit Manseng

Chambourcin, Chardonel, Seyval, Vidal Blanc, Rouchaneuf

Niagara, Norton, Most Muscadine Grapes: Carlos, Magnolia, Noble, Sterling, Fry, Nesbitt

Good Site

Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Petit Manseng, Viognier

Chambourcin, Chardonel, Seyval, Vidal Blanc

Most Muscadine Grapes: Carlos, Magnolia, Noble, Sterling

Risky Site

Petit Manseng

Seyval, Vidal Blanc

Norton, Niagara

Zone 3

 

Vinifera

Hybrid

American Varieties

Most Desirable Site

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Petit Manseng, Malvasia Bianca, Muscat Ottonel, Carmine, Syrah

Chambourcin, Chardonel, Seyval, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Rouchaneuf

Niagara Norton

Good Site

Cabernet Franc, Malvasia Bianca, Muscat Ottonel, Riesling, Petit Manseng, Viognier

Chambourcin, Chardonel, Seyval, Traminette, Vidal Blanc

Niagara Norton

Risky Site

Malvasia Bianca Muscat Ottonel, Petit Manseng

Seyval, Traminette

Niagara

Zone 4

Challenging but some varieties of vinifera, hybrids and Katuah muscadines grow in the mountain region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pest Management

This section includes resources on how to combat the common vineyard pests and diseases including how they spread, their effect on vines and strategies for their control.

Early Season Disease Reminders

Integrated Pest Management
IPM is an ecologically based management program aimed at reducing unnecessary inputs in crop production and improving overall fruit quality.

For more information:

North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
Find horticulture county centers and agents. Also available: Muscadine Grape Diseases and Their Control by W.O. Cline.

North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
Phone: (919) 733-7125

Pesticide Label Information 

Pesticide Container Recycling 

Environmental Regulations 

Waste Disposal and Permits  

Fungicide Spray Recommendations 

Pesticide disposal and pesticide container recycling is essential. Contact the NCDA&CS Pesticide Section at (919) 733-3556 for general information.

For questions about legal disposal options, contact:

William T. McClelland
NCDA Pesticide Disposal Specialist
4000 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh, NC 27607
Phone: (919) 733-7366

Worker Protection Standards and OSHA Regulations 

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FAQs

Interest in grape production has generated many questions about establishing a vineyard establishment and growing grapes. These are some of the most frequently asked questions we hear from the grape growing and winemaking industries.

Where is the best place to acquire grape vine plantings?
Several commercial nurseries are available from which to buy vines. Most are listed in the Vineyard Supplies section. California nurseries typically only carry vinifera varieties. Hybrids can be found from the eastern nurseries, such as those in New York.

Is it best to plant a single variety or multiple varieties?
It depends on the size of your vineyard. If you're planting 1 to 2 acres, then grow a single variety to get sufficient quantity to sell. Otherwise, consider growing more than a single variety, perhaps several (depending on acreage). This helps to spread out the risk (losses to frost/disease, decreased demand for a particular variety) and the harvest (consider labor availability).

Are there particular varieties that are in high demand/short supply that would readily grow in the Piedmont?
The majority of varieties appear to grow well in the Piedmont area. Popular varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Merlot, Syrah (all vinifera), Chambourcin and Seyval Blanc (French hybrids). In addition, other varieties are beginning to attract interest and attention. More importantly, talk with the wineries you hope to sell to about the varieties they anticipate needing.

What is the optimal size of a vineyard?
A vineyard should be at least 4 to 5 acres to obtain reasonable economies of scale and produce sufficient quantities (tons) of multiple (3 to 4) varieties. Upper limits are determined by market demand and your ability to grow and sell premium quality grapes. The optimal size appears to be at least 5 acres, probably no more than 10 acres for a new, unestablished vineyard that isn't making its own wine. The average size in North Carolina is 5 acres.

Do grapes prefer alkaline or acidic soils?
Grapes prefer nearly neutral soils, pH - 6.2-6.5.

Where/how is the best way to learn the ins and outs of grape production?

  • Get a copy of the North Carolina Winegrape Growers Guide. This is a good introductory text on the subject.
  • Talk with people already operating vineyards.
  • Attend industry educational and trade shows, such as the North Carolina Winegrowers Association's annual meeting.
  • Join grower associations.

What considerations are important for growing grapes at higher elevations and colder temperatures?
Winter minimum temperatures will be the most limiting factor in variety choice at your site. Vitis vinifera varieties (Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.) are the least hardy of the bunch grapes and would be at a higher risk of cold-injury or death. Most are only hardy down to between -5 and -10 degrees and can suffer a lot of wood damage at temperatures of 0 to -5.

Varieties such as Merlot and Syrah, which are gaining in popularity here, are more cold-tender. Some varieties are slightly cold-hardier, such as Cabernet Franc, which is a better choice in our area than Cabernet Sauvignon (much more grower friendly). This would be a possibility if the site is higher on the hillside with a good slope and plenty of air drainage.

Riesling is also a more cold hardy variety. We don't recommend Riesling as a commercial variety due to its susceptibility to fruit rots in our summer heat and humidity, but in a smaller scale "hobbyist" planting you might want to try some.

Your best bet will be with hybrids and American varieties, which are more cold-hardy (from -10 to -25 degrees, depending on variety). American varieties worthy of your consideration are Concord, Niagra, Delaware and Catawba, all of which have been successfully grown in the mountains and used for wine. The hybrids make very good wines and are more reliable croppers due to their higher level of cold-hardiness and their tendency to set near-full crops on secondary shoots, making them more frost tolerant than vinifera varieties.

There are several varieties from which to choose. Hybrids and American varieties haven't been widely planted in North Carolina, but Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Villard Blanc have done well. Very good wine also can be made from Baco Noir grown in Ashe County (elevation around 3,200 feet). Other hybrid varieties worthy of consideration are Traminette, Chardonel, DeChaunac, Ives, Marechal Foch and Leon Millot. This list is certainly not all-inclusive.

You won't find the American or hybrid varieties at the California nurseries; they deal almost exclusively with vinifera varieties. But all the varieties mentioned, and others with which you might want to experiment, are available at many eastern grapevine nurseries, particularly those in New York. For a list of nurseries and contact information, visit our Vineyard Supplies section.

Which grapevines are grafted and why?
All vinifera varieties are grafted onto rootstocks (the only way they'll survive our soil-borne pests). Hybrid varieties may or may not be grafted (depends on the nursery). All grafted grapevines need to have their graft unions protected from hard freezes each winter, typically by "hilling up" soil around the vines (covering the graft unions) in late fall and leaving it over the graft unions until after the last frosts in spring. This needs to be done at least until the vines are 5 years old, but is best done every year with vinifera varieties, which are more at risk for winter-kill.

Assuming a vinifera vineyard spaced at 6 feet between vines and 10 feet between rows, and trained to a vertical shoot positioned trellis, how much does 1 acre of grapes produce, how many vines would that acre contain and how many pounds on average can one expect from each vine in this configuration?
Approximately 4 tons is the upper allowable limit. The vines can produce more, but fruit quality begins to suffer. Using a divided canopy trellis such as the Lyre or reducing between-row spacing (to 8 or 9 feet) can increase yields to 5 or 6 tons per acre. Poor vineyard management can reduce yields even if all other factors favor high yields. At 6x10 feet spacing, an acre would contain 726 vines. The vines would carry 11 to 12 pounds each.

What is the average spacing of vines in North Carolina?
As the model states, average is around 6x10 feet. For vertical shoot positioned trellises, Andy Allen suggests 6 feet between vines is too close under North Carolina vigor levels and would rather see vines spaced 8 feet apart.

How much wine can one make from a ton (2,000 pounds) of grapes?
Average production is about 100 gallons per ton. Reds can get up to 110 to 120 gallons per ton, whites aren't pressed as hard (otherwise you get harsher tannins from the seeds) and therefore don't have as high a juice yield as reds (90 to 100 gallons per ton).

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North Carolina Grape Varieties

Today, bunch grapes, including Vitis vinifera, French-American hybrids and Labrusca-type grapes, are grown throughout the central and mountain regions of North Carolina. Muscadines are grown in the coastal plain where moderate winter temperatures prevail. For more on the production regions, see the Crop Profile for Grapes in North Carolina.

Wines may be made from 100% or predominantly a single variety of grape, or wines may be made from a blend of several grape varieties. Becoming familiar with grape varieties is a vital step in knowing your wines. Many wines, especially in the United States, have the name of the producer (the winery) on the bottle, and the wine is named by the grape variety used.

The types of wine made from these different grapes include:

Vitis Vinifera
Wines produced from grapes of this traditional European species are reminiscent of those harvested in Europe and California. New agricultural developments have enabled viticulturalists to successfully cultivate these grapes in North Carolina. Cultivars include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Viognier and Cabernet Franc.

French-American Hybrids
These are crosses between various Vitis vinifera and native American species. Developed in France in the late 1800s, these grapes combine the disease resistance and winter hardiness of American species with the classic flavors of the Vinifera, or European, species. Cultivars include Chambourcin, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, and Villard Noir.

Vitis Rotundifolia
Muscadines, known locally as scuppernongs, are the native grapes of North Carolina. Muscadines are commonly consumed fresh or made into wines and jellies. Wines of this grape are rich, full-flavored, and very fruity. Popular cultivars include Carlos, Magnolia, Sterling, Nesbitt and Noble. For information on home grape growing, see Muscadine Grapes in the Home Garden.

Labrusca-Type
Wines produced from grapes of this species, considered the American "bunch" grapes, offer intense, fruity flavors which display the true taste of their labrusca heritage. Cultivars include Catawba, Concord, Delaware and Niagara. For information on home grape growing, see Bunch Grapes in the Home Garden.

Fruit Varieties
Wines vinted from fruits other than grapes are opening new opportunities through the efforts of North Carolina vintners. These exciting new wines are pleasing to the palate and delectably enchanting. Fruit varieties include apple, blueberry, blackberry, peach, plum, strawberry and cherry.

This is a conservative list of grape varieties that are grown or might be considered for growing in North Carolina. For more about grape varieties, see Wine and Juice Grape Varieties for Cool Climates and the California Grape Vine Nursery Rootstock Chart.

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