Growing grapes in Southeast Texas

Growing grapes in Southeast Texas
Growing grapes in Southeast Texas

Lots of local gardeners have great luck with growing grapes, and I wondered why. According to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association (TWGGA), Texas is the site of the first vineyard established in North America. It was established by Franciscan priests close to 1659. As European settlers followed the development of mission outposts, they brought more grapevine cuttings. The grape growing industry in Texas developed through the 1800s.

Texas might have been first, but is nowhere near the largest state cultivator of grapes. Texas has more than 4,500 acres of vineyard farmland. In contrast, California’s 2013 grape acreage totaled 878,000 acres.

Just like in Europe, we have a regulating agency for grape growing. Our American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) are officially designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Texas has eight AVAs, although many vineyards (and backyard grapevines) exist outside of the officially designated regions.

Look to the variety Blanc du Bois for success in grape growing in Southeast Texas. It is an American hybrid with Italian Muscat in its heritage. It is what’s primarily grown around here and can produce wine and jellies. It is usually made into white table wine. According to TWGGA, it is popular locally because of its resistance to Pearce’s disease. This is a bacterial disease that can kill off an entire vineyard.

Another option for local grape growing success is Cynthiana. This grape is used in making dry wine. Black Spanish is another recommendation of TWGGA. It’s also known as Lenoir or Jacquez. It was used in southern France in the mid-1700s, but this grape has American heritage. It is resistant to Pearce’s Disease and is found growing in both Southeast and Central Texas. It is usually used to make Texas Port and red table wine.

A relative of the Black Spanish grape is the Favorite grape. The vines were first cloned near Brenham, Texas. It is disease resistant and can be used to make red wine or jellies. Also, consider Ruby Cabernet, Muscadine or Sauvignon Blanc.

How do you plant grapes in Texas? Pick a location in full sun and prepare the soil. The best soil for most grapes is neutral to slightly acidic. Guess what? That’s what a lot of the East Texas soils are. Add compost and sand if you need to improve drainage in your “vineyard.” They need non-compacted soils so that their roots can take up oxygen from the pockets and pores in the ground.

Pick the best grapes for your area. Put up trellises for the growing vines. Plant your grape plants near the trellises usually from the end of February to the month of April (prior to the season’s last freeze) Train the vines up the trellis as they grow. You can keep a roll of florist’s wire and clippers near the grape area to help train the branches to go where you want them. Look to the experts at Texas Agri-Life Extension agency for questions with your grapevines. You could be making entries in the Fruit and Veggie show next year.