"southern" New Hampshire

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Jul 16, 2014
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I am originally from the real south, so I had to put that in quotes.

I have been growing grapes for almost 20 years now. So far I have made 1 gallon of wine from my grapes. However, I have made every single possible mistake that one person can make. Now, if anyone tells me that there are more mistakes to be made, I just may break down!

20 years ago or so, my wife attended a seminar by Dr. Pete Oldak, Jewell Towne Vineyards in South Hampton, NH. We got excited about trying to make some wine. I had already cleared some land (in NH, it is a state law that you have to own a plaid shirt and own a chain saw) so I cleared just a bit more to the east for a small vineyard and planted about 10-12 vines. Of course, I didn't clear enough, I didn't pull the stumps, I didn't water and I didn't put in the trellis at first.

2 years later I: cleared more trees, dug up the few still living vines, pulled all of the stumps, replanted with more vines and built my first trellis. I think at that time I had about 6 each of Cayuga, Seyval, Baco Noir and Marchal Foch.

A couple of years later the vines were growing some, but not well. Also, nothing ever ripened. I was growing the same varieties as Pete who produces commercial wines, so I figured something was seriously wrong. Now realize, when you have a real problem in the vineyard, you get one chance per season. Blow it and you lose a year. Or 2. Or 3.

Finally I took some clusters over to Pete one day with some leaf cuttings. It was mid September and he was close to harvest. I wasn't. He immediately said that my grapes weren't the varieties I thought. The whites were probably Chardonelle, a good variety but one that just won't ripen here. I think that maybe the reds had died. I ordered replacements from Double A vineyards for next year. I have dealt with them exclusively since.

So, I planted real Cayuga, Seyval, Baco Noir and Foch. They grew, but not too well. A couple of years later I learned about the real pest problem of grape growers - grape berry moth. Japanese beetles ravage the leaves, but with commercial growers, 2 grapes out of 50 randomly selected clusters with GBM and your shipment is toast. I spent a few hours in the hot (for NH) sun plucking every grape with GBM. I spray much better now.

Then I learned about the second worst pest of grapes - deer, or, as I call them, long legged rats. It doesn't take but a couple of nights to ruin a season. As I said earlier, you don't get many chances at a season. Just a few 'visits' by deer and you don't get anything. That was really hurting my grape growing.

I tried everything, all kinds of spray. Maybe the worked (sort of). But it only took one rain storm when I couldn't run out afterwards and spray when the deer got my vines ( I work full time as a software engineer). That happened a few times (I am a slow learner). So I bought and installed an electric fence. Easy. Cheap. *EFFECTIVE*, at least for me. I really don't have much 'deer pressure', so it works well. My vines got to grow (somewhat).

I have one variety that *REALLY* grew well. I was getting canes exceeding 30' in a single year! But very little fruit. Baco Noir, known to everyone (except me) for excessive bull canes. Ripped it out and re-planted Landot Noir. At sometime I added Traminette. I think that I had lost the Foch again.

I doubled the size of my vineyard (my chain saw gets a healthy workout!). If you can't grow 36 vines, just think how poorly 72 will grow!!! The original section has 6 rows of 6 vines with 4 varieties in 3 x 3 sections (well, that was the plan, but some got mixed up). In the new section I extended the original rows from 50 to 100' and planted 6 vines of the same variety in each of 4 rows (Foch again, Frontenac, Chancellor and Marquette). Later I planted La Cressant and 2 Himrod in one row and 3 Foch and 3 Chancellor in the other.

But they wouldn't grow well. I had cut rather large trees where the vineyard is now, mainly white pine, red and white oak and red maple. The soil isn't deep (NH is called the 'granite state' for a reason, besides our heads). The last glacier 10,000 years ago did remove most of that filthy dirt from my lot (Thank you very much).

After a few more years (next year they will do much better - I just know it!) I called the NH Cooperative Extension and begged for help. They came out and pointed out a few things. Then strongly suggested a soil test. My pH was 4.0 - 4.5 and I rated very low on phosphorus and potassium. No wonder they couldn't grow.

Well, that was serious because it takes lime several months to leech into the soil. So, another season was out. But I started purchasing lime. Now, I am a hobbyist. I don't have a tractor and the vineyard is about 300' from my driveway, not a straight path nor anywhere near flat. Over that summer and early the next spring I moved over 3000 lbs of lime by wheelbarrow to my orchard (it was having the same problems) and vineyard. I have a small fertilizer spreader (typical homeowner variety). I felt that spending $250 for a nice one to be used for one occasion was a waste of money. I still feel that way but wish I had a nicer one. I also spread a couple of hundred lbs of fertilizer (potassium and pot ash). This year my soil tested between 6.5 and 7.0. Oops! Well, I know that it will go back down pretty quickly. It is still low on potassium and phosphorus, but that is getting much better.

I also tried planting white clover between the rows. It provides free nitrogen and my bees (4 hives) would benefit from the flowers. But only if it grew. The first 2 seedings didn't sprout a single plant as far as I could tell. This from a weed!!! After the pH improved, the third seeding did germinate.

Finally last year I broke down and installed drip irrigation. We get close to 40" of precip a year (which is why the pH is so low), but we always have long hot dry spells (be quite Texas!). So now I irrigate 2 nights 3 hrs each per week when it doesn't rain. 1" of rain is 27,150 gallons per acre. I have about 1/8 acre, so I need about 3,400 gallons per week. 6 hours about does that. The same goes for my orchard. Remember, NH is the 'granite state'. My well is 505' deep, mostly through solid rock. We had it 'fracked' a few years ago and now the yield is somewhat over 10 gallons a minute, except when the weather is dry (and you need it). However, both the grapes and the fruit trees are growing much better now.

Last year it looked like I would get a decent harvest of Frontenac, Marquette, Chancellor and Cayuga. Then something ate all of my grapes just before harvest. I had them wrapped in bird netting but it seemed to get in from the ground. I think it may be been rabbits, but possums, skunks and raccoons are also possible. The electric fence is sized to keep out deer (big), not small animals. I am in the process of improving the fence stakes and adding 2 more wires (both low). Then I will wrap in bird netting, tying off the bottom better.

This year so far I am looking at a harvest of Frontenac, Marquette, Chancellor, Foch and Cayuga. Not much, just 1-3 gallons each. The Seyval and Traminette have never grown well. This year (like last) I thinned nearly 100% of the clusters on them and they have *GROWN* (the improved pH). Next year I expect a good harvest from them. I also thinned the other varieties in an effort to get better quality. I really hope that I get to harvest.

The Landot Noir just won't grow. Last year I made a serious mistake. I have used Captan for years, in addition to several other fungicides. But I am always looking for alternatives to reduce resistance development. I saw that JMS Stylet oil is useful for powerdery mildew, so I bought some. I always get aphids on my sweet cherries in the spring, so last year for my first spray I used the oil to kill the aphids (very effective). Since it was my first spray I added Captan. Somehow I missed the warnings. I nearly defoliated 2 cherry trees and the Landot Noir. Other varieties took a hit but nothing like the Landot Noir. Experience is a hard teacher; she gives the test and then the lesson. I learned.

Soon I hope to harvest. I have been reading about making wine from these Minn grapes. I read that I should probably do a second (ML) fermentation. I will be buying the supplies soon. I have fermented (from my grapes) 1 gallon of Cayuga. The fermentation went well, but I am not sure about the rest. Somebody (or my dog) broke off the water lock so I am not sure if it spoiled. Right now it may be good (or not). If I rack and bottle it, I will know, and it may be bad. My wife thinks it is.

So that is my saga. If anyone needs help screwing up, definitely contact me for ideas! I seem to be very good at that.

I took this picture on 7/19/2014. It is from the SW corner of my vineyard. The Landot Noir is closest. Cayuga is to the north (left). East (right) is Sayval and Traminette. You really can't see anything else. I haven't mowed in a couple of weeks because the clover was blooming.

Chuck Crisler
New Hampshire

Welcome Chuck, you have quite the story. I feel you pain though. Hang in there and good luck.