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In the Vineyard

Grapes for challenging locations

There are choices if you want to grow grapes on a site with no history of viticulture—but be sure to do adequate research first.

By Gary Strachan N

ot every vineyard can ripen Cabernet Sauvignon to an acceptable level to make good wine. Perhaps some people enjoy the pungent flavour of green peppers, but be aware that the green pepper flavour isn’t limited to Cabernet Sauvignon. Many grape varieties go though a vegetative stage prior to ripening and some seem to never get over it.

Planting a long-season, heat-loving grape variety on a site that is too cool or doesn’t have a long frost-free season simply doesn’t make sense. Do your homework before you plant. Check the hardiness zone map of Environment Canada. Check out the degree day calculator posted on

It can be difficult to relate posted generalized performance of grape varieties to B.C. growing conditions. First, most American postings use Fahrenheit degree days which are 9/5 of Celsius degree days. In addition, our extreme latitude slows springtime development, accelerates ripening during mid-summer and slows fall maturation.

The bottom line is that you do have choices if you want to grow grapes on a site with no history of viticulture, but be careful.

If you are growing in a region with a short season and moderate accumulation of growing degree days,

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2016 31

you can beat the average by planting on a southern or westerly facing slope with well drained soil.

Midway up the slope will be better than at the bottom or top. The bottom of the slope will be cooler because of cool air drainage toward the lowest part and the top

Baco Noir, a short-season, winter-hardy hybrid grape.

will be cooler because of warm air carried over the top of the hill by convection currents.

The steeper the site, the better will be the heat capture, but unless you intend to terrace the site, there is a practical limit of about a 30 per cent slope for safe management. Vines should be planted in the direction of the fall line to enable air drainage. What are you going to plant? In Eastern Ontario and Quebec, the hybrids from Minnesota, Marquette and Frontenac, have found a home. Maréchal Foch, the historic winter hardy vine for B.C. has always been a mainstay. The lesser-known relatives of Foch: Maréchal Joffre, Léon Millot and Lucie Kuhlmann, are shorter

season than Foch and have similar character, deep colour and low tannin.

Other short-season varieties such as Baco Noir and Castel Noir are also possibilities. If you’re looking for a few cuttings to check at your site, you might look at Peter Salonius’ list posted on the Northern Winegrower. He has an ongoing evaluation at a cold, short-season site in New Brunswick. One of the advantages of hybrid grapes is that in general many are more resistant than vinifera to powdery mildew and phylloxera. There are several disadvantages with choosing to enter the wine market with unfamiliar hybrid

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