Last year, we had two primary problems with our grapes. First of all, there were just too many. You think zucchini is bad? We had pound after pound of grapes. Second, the flavor was weak, not the beautiful, robust flavor of a terrific grape. (We did have an awfully fun time stomping grapes, though!)
With that in mind, I decided to make some major changes in how I handled the vines this year. In late winter, I enlisted the support of my neighbor and whacked back the vines to a more manageable configuration. I have four old growth grape vines that are grown along a trellising system. Here's what it looks like in February.
I know, it looks barren...and believe me, after we pruned it, it looked very sad, indeed. Keep in mind that different types of grapes are pruned in different ways. I just whacked mine back, but if you want to know how to do it in a way that preserves next year's harvest, I have a whole chapter on grapes in Grocery Gardening (out in January).
Green Grapes Ready for Harvest
Pruning did a couple of things...it kept these largely unruly vines under control...ok, partially under control. It also resulted in fewer grapes. And before you say that fewer grapes is not a good thing, let me say it most certainly is. I simply don't need that many of them...and by pruning the vines and even thinning the grape bunches...the vines direct their fabulous flavor making abilities into what remains. Believe me, the taste difference is significant! There are many fruits that are thinned in order to encourage larger growth and better flavor.
I also decided to wait a full 2-3 weeks later before harvesting. Actually, I am going to harvest this weekend. Grapes are harvested any time between August and October. Last year, in my eagerness, I think I harvested just a tad too soon...which did not allow them to fully mature in flavor and sugar. This year, I was patient...I waited...and waited...and tasted...and tasted. Yesterday, I plucked one of the purple-y black varieties and popped it in my mouth. WOW! My tongue did a little dance...tart, sweet, complex. I could feel the tannins in my mouth. You know, that slightly astringent, dry feeling that is a partner to red wine?
So, I will be out harvesting grapes this weekend. I wish I knew what type I had (beyond purple and green). I suspect Concords, but they could be wine grapes. I am fortunate to have inherited these when we got the house, so I didn't have to do any of the trellising construction. Though I have reduced the number, there will still be plenty to pick...the question is always what to do with them?
Grapes don't store well when fresh. I fully intend to use my dehydrator on some of them...maybe make jams and jellies. Or maybe skin, remove the seeds, cook and freeze for later use. I have several grape recipes I would like to try, including an old fashioned grape pie...maybe I test that out this weekend. If you have any good suggestions for storage or recipes, I would love to hear it!