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Marin's climate is perfect for growing grapes, and arbors give them support

  • Barbara J. Euser
  • Since ancient times, grape arbors have graced gardens and supported vines producing grapes for the table and for wine production. The oldest known wine jar dates from between 5400 and 5000 B.C.E. in the Neolithic Period. The Egyptians created a hieroglyph representing a grape arbor. Symbolic of peace and security, the Bible says, "They will sit under their grapevines and their fig trees, and no one will be afraid." (Micah 4:4)

    In the Mediterranean climate of Marin County, grape vines thrive. Grapes prefer well-drained soil and will require moderate summer watering until well-established.

    In the wild, grape vines sprawl along the ground or clamber over rocks or dead trees. But to protect the fruit as it develops, cultivated vines are supported either on trellises or on arbors. As well as providing support for grapevines, garden arbors can provide a focal point for the garden, creating inviting spaces of dappled shade.

    Arbors may take many forms. Arches create a sense of anticipation, the feeling that something interesting must be happening on the other side. Rectangular arbors may shelter a location for a picnic table or outdoor seating. Arbors may cover a walkway, leading from one section of the garden to another. Or they may be asymmetrical in shape, perhaps in the form of a half circle creating a backdrop for open space.

    In order to support the weight of one or more vines, grape arbors must be very sturdily built. Plans for arbors are available at such online sites as www.bluegrassgardens.com,www.sunset.com andwww.woodworkersworkshop.com. The poles supporting the arbor should be set in cement with at least six inches of gravel underneath the posts to allow for drainage. A vine can be planted at each post, although one vine will eventually grow large enough to cover even a large arbor.

    According to farm adviser Paul Vossen, "Grapes, Vitis species, are an ideal crop plant for mild climactic areas of California. The unique coastal climate allows the production of some of the world's highest-quality wine grapes and, consequently, some of the world's best wines. Table grapes do very well in almost all of California, excluding the very cold mountain areas. Table fruit should be grown so that the clusters are shaded by the leaves of the vine while wine grapes generally need some sun exposure to the clusters starting just after bloom."

    There are several thousand varieties of grapes from which to choose, but there are a few outstanding varieties that the home gardener should consider. If you are planning to produce your own wine, you may decide to plant early-maturing chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet franc or pinot noir, or late-maturing semillon, white Riesling, cabernet sauvignon or merlot.

    Table grapes are of either European or American origin. European varieties include Thompson seedless, tokay and muscat of Alexandria. American table grape varieties include perlette, flame seedless and red globe.

    Perhaps the most traditional American table grape is Concord, which can be used for jellies and grape juice as well. According to Gail Cohen in her article, "How to Build Concord Grape Arbors" on www.eHow.com, "Discovered growing wild in Concord, Mass., in the late 19th century, this indigenous grape variety quickly became a favorite of farmers who marveled at the fruit's ability to withstand harsh weather conditions.

    Early harvests don't diminish the juicy taste of Concord grapes, and if you're in it for the long haul, you'll be pleased to learn that while grapes take around three years to mature, the well-tended arbor will give you up to 40 years' worth of sweet crops."

    Whether you decide on wine or table grapes, growing this attractive and delicious fruit on an arbor will add to your pleasure and the appeal of your garden for years to come.