The first year that you own a vineyard you don’t expect to harvest any grapes. In fact it takes about four years for a vineyard to grow to maturity and produce enough grapes for a commercial harvest. As a longtime backyard gardener, I’ve had to learn a bit of patience waiting for flowers or vegetables to bloom or ripen over a summer, but my patience has never had to stretch out for four long years.
Nevertheless our grand grape adventure has been pretty fun this first year and, despite all the battles with bugs and deer, we have been rewarded with seeing almost all of our 1265 vines grow up. Only 3 have actually died, and another 20-30 are thriving less than we would like, probably because the drainage is not good enough in those spots.
The growing season is now nearly over for the vines, and the nights are getting cooler. So that meant it was time to pull the grow tubes off the vines so the canes can harden off before the weather turns freezing. We started that task about two weeks ago with Jed yanking off the tubes, or slicing open the plastic if the vine was really big. I followed behind tying up the vines to their bamboo stakes. The task is pretty pleasant, though it still takes over a couple of hours to get through one row.
Last week our planting buddies Karen and Deb came over for the day to help out. It was a beautiful day to be outside enjoying the end of summer. All the tubes were gone by day’s end, and all the vines were tied to stakes.
Seeing all the green vines without a sea of smurf blue made it look like a real vineyard. It was a really nice reward for a summer of hard work, and of patience.
But of course, as with all things relating to this adventure there was one small surprise. Jed had just pulled a grow tube off one of the vines when I heard him yell. So of course I rushed over to see what was wrong, and there on the vine, tucked all the way at the bottom was a tiny cluster of grapes. Jed and I excitedly each pulled off a grape and popped it in our mouths. Expectation mixed with apprehension for a moment as pits mixed with skin mixed with juice. We both smiled – the grapes were delicious.
A few rows later we discovered another, slightly larger cluster, which we carefully transported to the fridge. Karen and Deb each got to taste one when they came to help out. Now professional growers carefully pull off all the blossoms from new vines in the first couple of years. You don’t really want grapes, you want good roots the first year and good cordon vines the second. But oh it was nice to actually see and taste a grape from our very own vineyard in the very first year!
Fortunately we didn’t find any more clusters so we didn’t have to feel like the amateurs that we still are. Jed, of course, had to do a calculation about the size of our harvest. We have about three acres under vines, and our two little bunches weighed just 3 ounces. So our first harvest yielded an ounce an acre. Let’s see, that would be a return on investment of about how much per acre? Um, let’s leave that for a future year. Suddenly I find I can be very patient.