Varieties for central Massachusetts

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Senior Member
Nov 21, 2016
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Hi all,
I've been lurking for a while, but this is my first time posting. I've read numerous old posts about variety selection, but in my head I'm having a hard time summarizing all that I have read, so I'll just ask my question directly. We're going to be planting about 50 vines in the spring and I "THINK" I have an idea what to plant, but I'm not sure. I fully understand that it's hard for anyone (especially me) to predict with 100% confidence what will or will not grow well on our property, but I'm hoping someone can tell me if my plan sounds reasonable or if I'm totally off base.

We're located just about smack dab in the geographic center of Massachusetts. Our site is on a hill with good exposure to the South. The soil quality is poor, as the developer who built our house stripped away most of the topsoil, leaving only the thinnest layer. I understand this may be a blessing in disguise for grapes. The native subsoil is granite based ledge, shot through with iron pyrite. Despite being granite based, the subsoil rocks break apart fairly easily. I think that if I rent a tractor/backhoe I can bust up a few rows sufficient to plant vines.

We want to concentrate mostly on red wine, so that's where I've been putting most of my thought. I'm thinking about planting half Petite Pearl and half Cabernet Franc. My logic is that it sounds as though Cab Franc can be grown successfully elsewhere in New England and even up into Canada. So with a bit of luck it should survive Mass too. The Petite Pearl would be a backup in case the Cab is not productive. If they both produce well, then so much the better - I always think of Cab Franc as being well balanced, so it could provide the framework for a decent wine, with the Pearl providing some fruit and interest.

Does this sound reasonable, or am I all wet? How about recommendations for a white? Thanks in advance!
Hi Ron,

You should start by getting a soil test. It'll tell you if you need to make any amendments, which are much easier to do before planting. It looks like UMass can do these for you: I send mine to UVM, which provides plant specific guidelines, including those for grapes. It might be worth asking UMass if they provide a similar service.

In terms of what to plant, check with Double A Vineyards or Northeast Vine Supply. Both have experience planting grapes in this part of the country and would be able to make recommendations. Both also provide the climate zone information for the different varieties.

I'd also highly recommend visiting any nearby vineyards. More than anyone, they'll know what works and does not work in your area.

I have 50 Petite Pearl that I planted in 2014. They are slow growers. They've also been fairly disease resistant and, compared to my Marquette, are easy to train and manage. We harvested a very small crop this fall and I've been pleased with the results so far.
Pomfret, VT, I know it well - what a beautiful corner of New England you live in, ChrisVT!

Thanks for the response. I definitely plan on doing a soil test. Glad to hear you're pleased with the results of the Petite Pearl. I hear such great things about it. I've visited a couple of vineyards in the region, but I should probably go again, because that was before we decided to start making our own wine. As I recall, they were planting mostly Marechal Foch, and frankly, neither of them were that great. I know there are lots of factors involved, but my experience with tasting Foch wines suggests that I should probably stay away from it.
Your soil sounds challenging to work in. Can you place posts in that stuff? LOL Good advice from Chris. Your plan sounds fairly solid. Give the Cab Franc a shot. It should live and grow well if you can ripen it enough there. I just don't get warm enough for long enough to ripen it fully here.
Yeah, challenging for sure. I "think" I can probably get posts in the ground if I rent a small backhoe to help. The rocks are everywhere around here, but they do usually bust up if you pick at them with a machine.

Thanks for the reply, and Happy Thanksgiving!
Be sure the soil is loose enough under the vines as well. I have some vines on stony ground in here in CT and some on sand. On the stony spot I took out the big rocks and loosened the soil below. Roots need space and oxygen. I think your varieties will be fine. Marquette makes nice red for me. You might want to try a few. I think you have a solid plan.