Drought-Tolerant Grapes – How To Grow Grapes In High Heat

By: Tonya Barnett, (Author of FRESHCUTKY)

Planting grapevines is a great way to introduce perennial fruit into the gardenpatch. Grape plants, though requiring some initial investment, will continue toreward gardeners for many seasons to come. For the best chance at success,however, it will be important to maintain optimal growing conditions. As withmany plants, it is especially important to take the irrigation needs ofgrapevines into consideration before planting.

The impact of high heat and drought may be one of thegreatest factors in choosing which grape cultivars to grow. Let’s learn more about grapes that can tolerate heat anddrought-like conditions.

How to Grow Grapes in High Heat and Drought

Before adding grapevines to the garden, it will be importantto decide which type is most suitable to your climate. American hybrid grapesare a very popular choice throughout the eastern United States. This is duelargely to their disease resistance and adaptability to the region’s wetweather conditions. Those living in hot, dry growing zones may consider addingEuropean vines to their yards.

While most European grapes are specifically used for theproduction of wine, there are several cultivars for fresh eating and juicing.When growing grapes in dry conditions, European plants are often the bestoption, as they have shown great tolerance to reduced water. In fact, thesedrought-tolerant grapes have shown minimal losses in even the driest of growingseasons throughout the United States.

Grapes that can tolerate heat do require some irrigationthroughout the growing season. This is especially important after planting, asthe vines become established. Once established, European grapevines are knownto develop long and deep root systems that assist in their survival of longperiods without water.

Many wine growers use periods of drought to their advantage.Well timed drought conditions (related to harvest window) can actually enhancethe taste of wines that have been produced from these grapes. When growing thesegrapevines at home, gardeners will benefit from weekly irrigation throughoutthe entirety of the growing season.

With planning and proper care, growers can expect bountifulharvests of fresh grapes in as little as two years from planting.

Drought-Tolerant Grapes

To get the most of your grape harvest in hot, dry regions, here are some of the most favorablegrapevines that survive drought:

  • ‘Barbera’
  • ‘Cardinal’
  • ‘Emerald Riesling’
  • ‘Flame Seedless’
  • ‘Merlot’
  • ‘Muscat of Alexandria’
  • ‘Pinot Chardonnay’
  • ‘Red Malaga’
  • ‘Sauvignon Blanc’
  • ‘Zinfandel’

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With drought, grape farmers revisiting old question: Dry farming, or irrigation?

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Frank Leeds, vice-president of vineyard operations of Frogs Leap winery, looks over dry-farmed Charbono grapes in the Rossi Ranch vineyard that dates to 1908 in Rutherford, Calif., on July 22.

Dry-farmed grapes are shown at Frogs Leap winery in Rutherford, Calif., on July 22.

Frank Leeds, vice-president of vineyard operations, stands by a row of dry-farmed grapes at Frogs Leap winery in Rutherford, Calif., on July 22.

A window looks out at rows of a dry-farmed vineyard at Frogs Leap winery in Rutherford, Calif., on July 22.

RUTHERFORD, Calif. – The grape vines that grower Frank Leeds tends in Napa Valley stand among the unheralded heroes of California’s drought, producing decade after decade of respected Cabernets and other wines without a drop of added water.

In a state where farms and dairies take the biggest gulp of the water supply, Leeds and the owners of his Frog’s Leap Winery are among a minority — but a growing minority — of California growers and winemakers who believe that when it comes to wine grapes, the less irrigation, the better.

“This is not struggling, skinny, tiny grapevines, right?” Leeds asked proudly earlier this growing season while leading a tour through the dry-farmed rows of wine grapes.

Frog’s Leap’s vines stood several feet apart from each other, giving the roots plenty of room to plunge into the soil and find moisture. Just across a narrow country road, black tubing of drip irrigation laced through another vineyard’s grape vines, more crowded but looking no less bountiful than their un-watered neighbors at Frog’s Leap.

Wine grapes, California’s No. 3 cash crop, in general are far less thirsty than the state’s No. 2 cash crop, almonds. But with 615,000 acres of wine grapes in production in California, wine industry trends in water use clearly have an impact on the overall water supply.

As wine growers close out harvest this month, California is ending a fourth year of severe drought, with mandatory cutbacks in water for cities and towns statewide, and for many farms.

Overwhelmingly, the debate in California’s wine industry over water use is driven by what’s best for the quantity and quality of the grape crop, more so than conservation.

All sides — the irrigated, the unirrigated, and the in-between — feel strongly that their way is the right way.

For Marc Mondavi, a third-generation producer in one of California’s most influential wine families, it only makes sense that grapes thrive best with an occasional sip of running water.

“I always tell people, I give them a little scenario: They put you and I in the middle of the Mojave Desert,” in a foot race, Mondavi said. “Who’s gonna run the distance? More than likely the person who’s had some water” to drink along the way.

In the early days of California winemaking, as in parts of France and Spain today, all wine was dry-farmed.

At the famed 1976 Judgment of Paris wine-tasting, which showed the world that California wines could meet or surpass French wines, some of the Napa Valley samples were dry-farmed, meaning they received no water beyond the 25 inches of rain that fall in Napa County during an average year.

By the 1980s and 1990s, however, as the wine industry boomed, water use increased.

“California producers in particular really wanted to control nature,” said George Taber, a long-time wine writer. “They realized they could have less acreage and greater production if they put their vines closer together and turned on the water.”

These days, the large majority of California’s vineyards are irrigated. That’s especially true in California’s dry Central Valley, where many of the wine grapes for the unmonied masses are produced.

Even in the lusher Napa and Sonoma valleys, home to many of the wines that define California’s industry, irrigation today is more the rule.

The fear driving irrigation for some vineyards — the “r” word.

“I do know that (various) wineries have a preference, but the overarching preference is that the fruit is sound and it arrives at the winery not shriveled up as a raisin,” said Rhonda Smith, a viticulture farm adviser in Sonoma County.

If dry-farming is haunted by the specter of raisins, the counterpoint is what wine critic and reporter Eric Asimov in 2008 dubbed Napa Valley “jammy fruit bombs “ — higher-alcohol, unsubtle wines from some irrigated grapes.

To get the water right, more and more producers, including Mondavi, use a range of high-tech moisture sensors.

And nearly a third of wine-growers are going further, ramping back watering in the belief that “deficit irrigation” generally produces better wine, said Joel Peterson, a noted winemaker at Sonoma Valley’s Ravenswood winery.

With less water, judiciously applied, the vines “will do exactly what they’re supposed to do” to produce the best grapes possible, Peterson said.

Ultimately, dry, wet or in-between, “it’s just a matter of your farming husbandry,” Peterson said. “Honestly, I think you can grow grapes either way.”

For Leeds and other dry-farmers in the Sonoma and Napa valleys, dry is the way to go, whether California’s winter rain and snow come back or not.

Dry-farm and deficit growers believe deeper roots give the grapes their taste of terroir, or place.

“We didn’t start dry-farming because of the drought, and when the drought’s over, we’re still going to dry farm,” Leeds said. “It’s for the health of the vine, and I’ll go to bat against anyone over the health of the vine.”

How to Grow Grapes from Seeds

Last Updated: July 20, 2020 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Andrew Carberry, MPH. Andrew Carberry has been working in food systems since 2008. He has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition and Public Health Planning and Administration from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 18 testimonials and 91% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

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Have you ever wanted to grow your own grapes? Grapevines are both beautiful and useful, and are one of the oldest plants to be cultivated. Grapes are typically reproduced from cuttings or grafts however, if you are determined (it's hard!) and patient (it takes a long time!), you can grow grapes from seeds. Read on to learn how to do it.

Watch the video: Gardening: Pruning: How to Prune Grape Vines in the 1st Year

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