Grapevine on arbor

Grape vine on wall arbor used as shade

Vitis vinifera grape vine trunk Genus: Vitis.

Species: vinifera  which is the chief source of ‘Old World’ wine and table grapes (other species include labrusca, riparia, roundiflora, rupestris, aestivalis, mustangensis and other hybrids). 

Family: VITACEAE. 

Common Name: Grape.

Etymology: Vitis: Latin for vine.  vinifera: Derived from Latin meaning Wine bearing.

History: The Vitaceae family is believed to have been around for some 65 million years, initially being spread around by continental drift long before humans used it for food and drink. This family consists of over 60 other inter-fertile wild Vitis species (native to Asia, Europe and North America) and sub-species that range in the tens of thousands. Vitis vinifera or the common grape vine is a domesticated native of the Mediterranean region and has been used by humans to make alcoholic drinks for some 6000-8000 years (one of the earliest domesticated microorganisms occurs naturally in the skin of grapes which lead to the discovery of alcoholic drinks such as wine). Wine production was not possible until around the end of the Neolithic period when clay vessels were introduced that could store the wine. The earliest archaeological evidence of wine making is in Georgia (far eastern Europe) and dates back some 8000 years ago and (surprise, surprise) the oldest winery dated at around 4000BC is found in Armenia (which boarders Georgia,). The Ancient Egyptians have records of the cultivation of purple grapes in their hieroglyphics and the ancient Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans grew grapes for both eating and for wine making from around 6000BC. The growing of grapes then spread to other regions in Europe with Italy and Spain starting around 1000BC and France around 500BC. 9th century AD saw the middle eastern city of Shiraz producing some of the finest wines in the Middle East and later the grape was spread to Africa and then North America. Interestingly the North American variety of Vitis (which grew all over the continent and was part of the Native American Indian diet) was considered, by European settlers, unsuitable for wine making, but later certain species were discovered to be an excellent rootstock due to their disease resistance. Today Vitis vinifera is one of the most widely cultivated fruits on earth and grows on every continent on earth bar Antarctica.
Australia was introduced to the Grapevine in 1788 when a cutting was brought from the Cape of Good Hope to NSW on the First Fleet. Initial wine making from these vines failed but perseverance meant that wine was available commercially from 1820. Vineyards were established in the Hunter Valley in 1830 and serious production and selection began in 1833 when James Busby returned from Europe with a large selection of grapevine cuttings.  Australia is now the 4th largest exporter of wine in the world and also consume some 750 million litres of wine per year. All in the name of good health I suspect.

Basic description: Long woody vine or liana that grows up to 30m long attaching itself by tendrils. They have large lobed or toothed leaves, small clusters of fragrant green flowers followed by familiar grapes that can range in colour from green through to dark purple depending on variety. Vitis vinifera has hermaphrodite flowers and does not require pollination while its wild cousins do.

10 Uses for Grapevines: 

  • Canes can be used to make a number of creations such as rustic baskets, wreaths, Christmas trees and other creations.
  • Delicious wine, champagne and other alcoholic drinks.
  • Excellent vine to provide natural summer shade over an arbour or pergola.
  • Grape seed oil can be used in cooking.
  • Healthy breakfast juices.
  • Jams, jelly’s and vinegar products.
  • Leaves used for wrapping food (dolma). Wild grape vines are usually used for this product as they have few grapes and larger leaves. (Wild grapevines are threatened with extinction in Europe due to removal of their natural habitat and introduced pathogens such as Phylloxera that was introduced from America and effect both commercial and wild grapevines). 
  • Numerous health benefits. Resveratrol in grapes has the ability to improve blood vessels dilatation assisting with a healthy heart and delaying neurodegenerative diseases. Pterostilbene compound helps reduce cholesterol. Other benefits with regular use are reduced breast cancer risk, eye health, reduction of Uric acid in kidneys, help with asthma, improved bone health and many more.
  • Oil can be applied to timber products especially chopping boards as it does not go rancid.
  • Sun screen, grape seed extract applied to your skin helps protect it from Sun damage and is even used in commercially produced sunscreen lotions.

Grape requirements & maintenance: pH 5.5-6.5 (Very acid to slightly acid). Grapevines will, however, grow in soils pH 4-8.5 although the closer you are to these outer limits the worse the yield and the more problems you will have. Full sun position (they will handle a bit of afternoon shade) and follow a strict pruning schedule not allowing the vine to produce fruit in the first couple of years focusing more on a strong root system. Grapes prefer a mild climate but are prone to mildews and fungus’s so humid climates should be avoided and plant pruned to provide good aeration. Grapes will do well in colder or even warmer areas if provided with a suitable micro climate.

Growing season: Late Spring through Summer. 

Companion plants:

  • Basil: (covers smell from eating insects).
  • Blackberries (provide shelter for parasitic wasp that kills leafhopper eggs).
  • Beans (nitrogen fixer).
  • Chives (covers smell from eating insects).
  • Clover (increases soil fertility, green manure crop and nitrogen fixer).
  • Garlic (covers smell from eating insects).
  • Geranium (repels pests such as leafhopper).
  • Hyssop (attracts bees, repels pests, improves wine flavour).
  • Mint (covers smell from eating insects).
  • Oregano: (covers smell from eating insects).
  • Rosemary (covers smell from eating insects).
  • Tansy (covers smell from eating insects).

Problem Solving without chemicals:

  • Black vine weevil: Flightless, 10-12mm long, brownish-black with a faint yellow spot. Adults (all of which are female) chew leaves during the night and hide under leaves and in surface debris during the day (dropping and playing dead if disturbed). Nymphs (of which there can be hundreds laid by each adult around base of plant) are white, 10mm long and legless with orange brown head. They feed on the roots up to 400mm underground, ringbarking large roots and completely removing smaller ones. Ensure debris is removed from around the plant, set sticky traps around the plant (weevils have no wings so have to walk to next plant).
  • Black spot: Fungal disease usually occurring if conditions are wet and cool in spring. Canes get brownish black spots that become larger and sunken. Leaves get small grey spots with reddish brown edges turning to black and develop holes. Remove all infected shoots as soon as disease is noticed.
  • Downy mildew: Fungus that is characterised by the presence of yellow or oil spots on the leaves and white down that can be seen on the underside of the leaves, canes and bunches in periods of high humidity. Can be reduced by avoiding overhead irrigation, pruning out areas of high shade, avoiding puddles around base of trunk and burning fallen leaves and prunings.
  • Elephant weevil: 10-20mm grey to black weevil with elongated head like elephant trunk. Adults chew on bark (causing ringbarking) and new buds. Eggs are laid beneath bark where larvae grow tunneling through vines causing structual damage. Weevil are strong fliers too so can move around targeting week plants. Monitor plant and cut out and burn effected wood.
  • Fruitfly: In summer flies lay their eggs in small groups just beneath the skin of the fruit, larvae make their way to centre of fruit and destroy it. Fruit will be full of maggots and inedible. Burn and destroy all fruit or seal fruit in plastic bag and leave in the sun for several days. The ‘Cera Trap’ and ‘Eco-Naturalure are new and effective organic fruit fly baits.
  • Grape phyloxera: Aphid-like insect up to 1mm long and an extremely serious pest that lives and feeds on the roots of grapevines causing yellow galls on fine roots that stop it from growing weakening the plant and grape production. There is no cure for this disease (even chemically). Ensure your grape is has been grafted with a phylloxera resistant American rootstock.
  • Grape vine hawk moth: The caterpillar of this moth is large green or brownish black to 75mm long that in large numbers can quickly defoliate sections of vine. Can be easily hand picked and are obvious because of droppings beneath where they are.
  • Grape vine scale: Shiny dark brown 7mm long by 4mm wide usually found in older parts of the vine in rough bark. Use White-oil at recommended dose on bottle, control ants that also help spread them.
  • Grey mould: Fungus that grows on both living and dead material. Masses of spores are produced in cool humid conditions and spread by the wind onto already damaged fruit and leaves of plant (can even grow after fruit has been picked so avoid damaging fruit when picking. Remove all damaged fruit and leaves on plant and prune allowing more air circulation and sun on plant.
  • Light brown apple moth: Larvae of this moth are 20mm long and green usually web two leaves together or roll one leaf into a tunnel to make a shelter. Feeds on young grape bunches that cause underdeveloped bunches or inedible fruit due to webbing and droppings. Remove weeds from around the plant where caterpillar can spread from, hand squashing is quite easy in small infestations or Dipel (Bacillus thuringiensis) can be used which is a naturally occurring bacteria that paralysis caterpillars digestive track causing them to stop eating and starve to death.
  • Mealybug: Oval shaped white to pink insects. Spray with white oil, squash by hand or introduce preditory insects like ladybirds and lacewings Avoid any type of chemical as it will do a better job at killing preditory insects than the mealybug.
  • Mites (bunch, grapeleaf rust, grapeleaf blister, bud): Tiny arachnid that cause both physical injury and changes in plant growth. Introducing predatory mites and other predatory insects (a healthy garden should already have these), high pressure hose repeated over a number of days or even vacuuming them. Insecticides should be avoided as certain varieties can actually stimulate mite reproduction while wiping out predators.
  • Passionvine hopper: Small brown insect (8mm) resembling a moth that will fly or hop when disturbed. All stages of this insect suck sap from plant. Pyrethrum (derived from daisies) is an effective organic killer but be aware that it will also effect all other insects good or bad.
  • Powdery mildew: Fungus spores that look like powder on plant, spread by water in damp humid conditions. Bicarbinate of soda (2 teaspoons per litre) with one drop of vegetable oil and one drop of liquid soap. Makes leaf alkaline inhibiting the generation of fungal spores and is a good preventative. Potassium bicarbonate, similar to baking soda is a contact fungicide that kills the powdery mildew spores quickly.
  • Red shoulder leaf beetle: Small native beetle about 6mm long with yellow and cherry red bands across its wing covers. Difficult to control but keep plant healthy as beetles target sick specimens, knock beetle into soapy water or set up white bucket with clear water near target plant as they are attracted to white.
  • Thrips: Adults are very small (1-2mm) straw-colored or black slender insects with two pairs of feathery wings. They damage the plant by sucking resulting in leaves turning pale, splotchy, and silvery before dying. They also scrap at fruit, flowers and leaves. Injured plants are twisted, discolored, and scarred. They can be controlled by removing and disposing of infected foliage and flowers, spray with Neem oil.

Growing Grapes: The main reasons for growing grapevines is for eating, making wine and as an effective creeping plant to grow over your arbor or pergola. There are literally thousands of grapevine varieties around the world that suit different needs and climates so you need to choose your purpose before purchasing. In general though the Vitis vinifera species is used in the making of wines such as Riesling, Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet sauvignon while Thompson seedless and Red globe are a common table grape.

Vitis vinifera grape vine trunk


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About Simon 93 Articles

Simon Schubert is a qualified Horticulturist who enjoys gardening and bush-walking. He has a keen interest in science, the natural world and particularly our environment. He would like to share his experiences and knowledge while learning better practices that will hopefully benefit the future for us all. Please join him on some fun adventures while learning about the life of plants and other interesting facts about our world.

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