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What grapes to grow in wet clay in British climate

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JT101

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I know it's a big ask. I'm just trying to do the best I can, but I know this isn't the south of france. I want to grow red and white wines.
I am close to London, with a few allotment plots, so it should produce enough for personal consumption.

I have chatted to other people with established vines here, and to be honest they don't seem to know much. People just chuck in the ground whatever was handed to them, and drink the resulting homebrew. They even admit it isn't great wine.

So I'd like to be a little more prepared than that, but I am obviously limited with my soil type.

It is heavy clay soil, that goes down about 1-2ft before it hits solid clay.

I know I can mound up with raised beds to improve the situation, and indeed I have tried to improve the soil over many years with lime, gypsum and organic matter, but it hasn't improved much.

Anyway, is there a list of UK friendly varieties based on soil type. I've made quite a collection of vines that are stuck in pots at the moment: Seyval blanc, Dornfelder, Bacchus, chardonnay, Reichensteiner, Schoenberger, Pinot Noir, Regent.

But I don't know which would be best suited to my conditions. I am willing to put the work in.

Thanks
 

JT101

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I would just add that it doesn't have standing water. I've heard of vineyards in a foot of water over winter, but you don't see any sitting water. How can I describe it. I suppose the water is draining slowly, because the soil is really mushy and hard to work when it rains, and cracks and goes hard if it's been dry a long time. About say 2-3 days after heavy rain it will be back to normal. I'm sure you know what sort of soil I'm on about. But not sure if a few days of wet soil would hurt vines? I mean as I said, there are guys growing grapes there successfully, they just don't taste amazing. Maybe the main issue is the shallow soil.
 

ibglowin

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Are there any wineries growing grapes anywhere near you or growing grapes in the same type of soils you have? Visit them and see what they are growing and ask them how well they are doing and what they have done to amend the soil and make them happy. It also goes without saying, grow what you like to drink. Do you have a local agricultural extension agent that you could speak with perhaps at a local University? Start networking with others growing grapes. I would plant 3 varieties you like and then see how well they do in your soil and then see what does well and what doesn't. You may need to pull a variety out if it doesn't do well. Also if you get late Spring frost look at the bud break pattern and stay away from the early bud breakers even if they make a fantastic wine.
 

JT101

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I did read your post Mike, and thanks for the reply. Only got round to planting out now. To be honest, most other people nearby who plant out vines just throw them in the ground and hope for the best. Their wine is probably just about drinkable, and the vines certainly vigorous.

It's so hard to say isn't it. In reality we shouldn't grow in wet clay soil. It only just about works. So I made raised beds, and dug out as much clay, 2ft down as I could. Should definitely help with the drainage. As long winded as it is, there are no shortcuts, and as you said, the best I can do is just experiment and see what works. Everything is site specific so I'll report back
 

salcoco

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if your neighbors vine are successfully providing grapes possibly the focus should be on wine making.
 

balatonwine

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You do have a problem soil. Vines like to have deep roots. And well drained soils. And, vinifera especially, not too much organic matter else they become too vigorous and produce low quality wines (generically, vines grow best where corn does not).


Vines are hardy. They will grow in a lot of places. But to make (good) wine from the fruit, there is that old French term that matters the most: terroir.

So a lot of the site factors will affect the quality of the wine the grapes can produce. Some you have control over, and others you do not. For example, consider macro-, meso- and micro-climate. That is, and as just some examples: not enough sun or too much rain (macro), slope and aspect (meso), poor canopy structure causing fungus (micro). You can control the first not at all, the second some what, and the third the most. But to create a good wine all three must be good for the type of wine you want to make. To create a great wine, all three must be ideal for the type of wine you want to make.

So, for example Pinot Noir, most of that grown in England I suspect goes into making sparkling wine, not red wine because site factors in England are better suited for growing this variety for sparkling wine production.
 
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Lidbanger

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@JT101

How'd you get on with vines in your London clay? I'm in a similar position in the slightly better Potteries clay but the an additional 100+ miles north. The location seems favourable; terraced facing south west with shelter from the north and east. In search for the ideal vine for these conditions.
 

Dennis Griffith

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I have to contend with heavy clay soil (Ohio) and I do the following: Pick higher areas that will promote drainage. Since clay holds a lot of moisture and has a tendency to harden as it dries, I add peat moss, vermiculite, Diatomaceous earth (or sharp sand), whatever is available to aid in moving water through the soil. Prior to adding these amendments, I sub-soil to 24", then till thoroughly adding in the amendments. After bed preparation it's important to test soil ph and do a soil test (the only time I test soil) to see what else you are lacking. I start this process in the fall prior to spring planting. This time also allows the soil to adjust to all the additions. I also monitor after heavy rains to see if I have pooling or over wet conditions prior to planting. Winter (here) is our wettest season and I have other techniques to promote drainage. In the spring, I till once more adding anything else needed (lime/sulfur for pH) and then set my posts. I stretch a string post to post to keep me straight and add a metal T post after every 3rd or 4th vine (depending on variety/trellis type/spacing). After the 3rd year I have the leaves tested to see where I'm at, nutrient wise. Hope this isn't too much, but sometimes it's helpful to see what others are doing.
 

Lidbanger

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Hi Dennis,

Thanks for taking the time to respond! No - not too much detail. What soil test do you carry out other than pH? Sorry if it's a naive question. Is having the leaves tested an expensive process?

What vines have you found works best in your Ohio clay?

Thanks again!
 

Dennis Griffith

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I have the leaves tested at a local lab (Spectrum Analytic Inc.) who has an agronomist on staff well versed in viticulture. Depending on lab preference, testing either the leaves or petioles (stems) will give the most accurate read on what the plant is getting too much or too little of. Soil test will only tell you what is being presented to the plant for use, but soil science is a complex field and different compounds can affect a plants ability to absorb certain nutrients. So with that said, the soil test will tell what the vine should do, but the plant test will give you the actual numbers.

Vine selection depends on many things, one being soil type. Another is growing season (weather) and what type of wine you want to make (not to mention disease resistance). For clay soils, pick either a grafted 101-14 root stock vine or an 'own rooted' variety well suited for your region. One good resource is to consult with local vineyards or other growers near you to see what they are doing. The vineyards will of course be growing a variety for the type of wine they make but will have a good idea what does grow well in your area.

I grow in Zone 6a, and I have both own rooted and grafted vines, plus an orchard (pears, apples, cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines), so I have to manage my time between to 2. I currently have about 150 vines and a local demand for these to make jelly. So I set aside the grapes picked from a few Concord and Buffalo vines for this purpose. Main varieties grown are America and Cabernet Franc. I also have some Concord, Buffalo, and Sheridan intermixed with the America because this variety is only semi fertile and another variety helps increase production. Hope this helps
 

Obbnw

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I've got Malbec and Tempranillo. The Malbecs are visible in my profile photo. Under the gravel layer is at least 10' of clay (we excavated for an addition). In the winter a few sections of the gravel layer become saturated and turn to mush. Solid as rock in the summer. I suspect the root zone is completely saturated from December to about now. I'm in Utah, from May to September we typically get about 6" of precipitation and humidity is low. I'll water the vines starting in June or July depending on weather. I am curious if the root zones will get large enough to eliminate watering. This will be year 5.

The vines are doing well. So the dormant season saturated soil doesn't seem to hurt them but my soils do eventually dry out in the summer. Average high temp in July is about 91F (about 33C) with an average relative humidity of about 25%. So far different climate than yours but another data point for reference.

The Malbecs have the 101-14 root stock, the Tempranillos don't. The Malbecs do seem to do better here.
 

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