Marianne Binetti: Grow your own grapes for wine
The first week of February is for early bloomers. Forsythia is budding and crocuses are popping.
Still have fallen branches and broken limbs from the big ice storm? This is the week to remember that when the bough breaks the petals will fall.
Even bare, leafless and unattached branches from easy-to-force trees and shrubs such as magnolia, peach, plum and cherry can be coaxed into blooming before they become kindling.
Just cut thin, whip-like stems from the broken branches of flowering trees and shrubs, and bring them indoors set into a vase of warm water. Wait a few weeks and you’ll force spring to blossom early.
Early spring also is the beginning of the season for festivals, and home and garden shows. Even my home town of Enumclaw has its own festival as we celebrate the vine and all that is sweet at the Enumclaw Wine and Chocolate Festival, Friday through Saturday. So the question that begs to be answered: Can you grow your own wine and chocolate in Western Washington?
The answer is yes! But only if you choose the right plants for the right place. If you can’t make it to the Enumclaw Wine and Chocolate Festival this weekend, here’s how you can become your own vintner even if you live in the cool summer areas of Western Washington:
1. Choose a wine grape that will ripen quickly!
I recommend Raintree Nursery at raintreenursery.com
for edible plants especially chosen for our Western Washington climate. This jewel of a nursery is located near Morton, so they understand our cool, rainy summers.
A good grape to start with is the Regent Grape on its own root stalk.
This grape comes from Germany where it is used to make a rich, red wine for the organic wine industry.
2. Choose a site with full sun and lots of heat.
A sunny slope with good drainage is ideal. In Western Washington this would be a south or west facing spot close to a brick or stone wall or a building that will reflect heat back onto the grapes.
3. Improve the soil.
Grapes love our slightly acid soil, but need fertilizing to get them off to a good start each spring. Add manure and compost to the planting site and work that well into the soil before you add your new vines.
4. Learn how to prune and train your grape vines.
Good discipline makes for well-behaved vines. The first year, you will need to cut back the young vines so that only two buds are left. Select just one cane to grow up the stake during year one. After that, choose a staking and support system from the many methods available in the grape growing world. Many volumes of books have been written about training the vines. Do your research.
5. Start making wine.
There is an art to when to harvest, how to crush and how to rest or ferment the grapes with many more details about how to age, store and bottle your home-brew. You’ll have three to four years to gather information before your first harvest from the vines you plant this spring. Growing grapes for wine is an investment in time and a labor of love. Get inspired and then get growing.
So what about chocolate?
Truth is you cannot grow real chocolate or cocoa plants here in Washington – but by golly that shouldn’t stop anyone from having a chocolate garden full of dark, rich foliage colors, sweet chocolate scents and velvety textures. The best dark foliage plants for a chocolate garden are huecheras, black lace elderberry, claret-colored smoke trees and rich black mondo grass. There are also chocolate scented cosmos and geraniums.
You might also want to enjoy a wine and chocolate garden the easy way: Add some seating in the shade and make this the spot for tasting chocolate, sipping wine and enjoying the garden.
Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her website at www.binettigarden.com