Vitis vinifera (Grape tree) or more popularly, grapevine, is member of the order Vitales. There is only one family in this order known as Vitaceae. The tree is native to Europe and some parts of Central and South Western Asia and the Mediterranean region where it has existed for what is estimated to be more than 65 million years.
Today, the grapevine is grown all over the world and has become one of the most economically important fruit crops in the world. It is mainly planted for production of wine, table berries and raisin. Wine production is believed to have been taking place as far back as 7000 years ago.
The tree grows to be 35 meters tall. The fruit, a berry, is referred to as a grape. Grapes from wild species measure about 6mm in diameter. When ripe, they are darkish purple and have a pale wax bloom. The fruits are much larger in cultivated plants. They measure up to 3 cm in length and may be purple, red or green. Grapevines thrive in humid conditions where there is good water supply.
Historically, grapes were used for both medicinal and nutritional value. For example, the sap was used to cure a number of skin and eye conditions while the leaves were important in management of bleeding and inflammatory disorders. At first, they were harvested from the wild by foragers and the early farmers but over time, they became domesticated. There is evidence that wine was very popular among ancient Greeks. In Egypt, it was reserved for the Pharaohs, priests and guests at state functionaries.
Grapes are usually grown from their own roots. There are no benefits gained from grafting on a preexisting rootstock. It is also wise to grow the new root as an old may have suffered the effects of extremely low winter temperatures. Suckers emerging from the root can also be replanted elsewhere as new plants. Most people simply gather a number of cuttings and induce them to grow. This is usually done during either late winter or in spring when vineyards are being pruned.
An ideal cutting is about 0.8 cm in diameter (approximately the thickness of a pencil). The cuttings are cut into 3 to 6-bud sections and tied in bunches of about 10. They are then put in damp, well-drained soil. They are retrieved in the months of April or May when the weather has warmed up. Well callused cuttings from the bunch are selected. Rooted grapevines are available for individuals who do not wish to prepare their own.
Cuttings are planted 6-8 feet apart. Buds need to be protected from sunlight for a few days. Fertilizer is not necessary during planting but thereafter, it may be done depending on the nutritional needs which can be worked out using foliage symptoms. The grape plant is not pruned and is allowed to bear fruit during the following growing season. The next pruning is done late in the second dormant season.
The Vitis vinifera (Grape tree) is grown perennially. Timing of the harvest depends on the intended use for the fruit. Fruits grown for jelly are harvested early. This is done to prevent formation of sugar crystals that would otherwise cloud the product. For those that are to be used as table berries, one has to wait until the color and the flavor are at their peak (just before the fruit drops from the bunch). Juice berries are harvested when fully mature.