SCOTTISH GRAPE VINES
We all like a challenge, and finding a grape variety to grow and ripen up north in Dundee is my current challenge. Grapes have become a staple diet at home as they get added to my muesli in the mornings and mixed with sliced bananas, other fruit and yoghurt for lunch. The greenhouse grapes ripen from August to December using Flame, Perlette and Black Hamburg, and my outdoor Brant fruits from October to November. Brant has small bunches and is more ornamental than commercial, but it is very successful outdoors so proving that grapes can ripen in our northerly Dundee climate. Now if I can find another variety with larger bunches which will ripen outdoors that will make me happy. Both last year and this year there were just too many grapes to eat, so some got brewed for wine. I make a fair bit of wine with surplus fruit crops including black and red currants, chokeberry, gooseberry, elderberry and saskatoons, but it would be nice to create my own wine from home grown grapes.
In the beginning
I have always enjoyed a wee drink from early youth with my pint of heavy, then as you got older and more mature you tried out the more sophisticated wines such as Blue Nun and Mateus Rose. They were the standard posh wines at that time to accompany an evening meal. Then in the seventies wine making from kits became fashionable and we found cheap plonk could be readily produced. However, if you read the books, attended wine making classes and experimented, every so often you brewed a good one. Many others failed the test and ended up down the sink. After many years home brew went out of fashion as supermarkets began to offer half price wines, so we could sample some reasonable wines at an affordable price. However a few years ago I ran into the problem of a lot of surplus fruit crops and no freezer space left, so I went back to home brewing, and soon discovered I had not lost all my old skills. My fruit wines give me a very flavoursome wine far superior to any I can find in a supermarket, and with a few modifications my Bramley apples produce a fantastic sweet dessert wine with a Sauternes flavour. My outdoor grape Brant has grown quite large with such a heavy crop of grapes that wine making is necessary. It will be Christmas before I open the first demijohn of Brant and compare it with my fruit wines. The future could give me even more grapes to try out as my young bushes grow and start to crop.
In the greenhouse
Muscat of Alexandria and Black Hamburg got me started, but the former needed heat to ripen up and Black Hamburg had pips. So Flame, a red seedless grape and Perlette a white seedless variety were planted to extend the range. These are all dessert grapes which we manage to eat so there is nothing left to brew.
The promise of better weather to come for Scotland, if global warming reaches us up north has tempted several folk to try growing a few outdoor grapes. One vineyard was started on the banks of Loch Tay a few years ago, and Christopher Trotter has planted a trial block on south facing land above the River Forth at Upper Largo in Fife. Christopher has planted the early ripening varieties Solaris, Rondo and Siegerrebe. The favourite variety at the moment is Solaris, a golden coloured grape with a muscat flavour. It is more a wine grape rather than dessert as it has pips, but some people prefer this as the seeds are very healthy to eat. I have Solaris and had my first bunch this year. I am also trying Rondo, Regent, Phoenix and Siegerrebe, but there are many other varieties worthy of a trial. Although you should remove most of the early bunches to allow the newly planted vines to concentrate on producing good growth, I was tempted to leave a few grapes to see if they would ripen up. As this has been a brilliant year for sun I was not disappointed. All my grapes ripened and as was on a garden scale with very fertile soil growth has been very strong. To be successful, grapes need warmth and sunshine which the Scottish climate is a bit low on, so they need a south facing slope, wall or fence with reasonable soil which is well drained.
Plant of the week
The smoke Bush, Cotinus coggygria turns a lovely crimson in autumn before leaf fall. This deciduous shrub is a deep purple maroon all summer and adds a bit of colour to borders. It can grow quite tall but it can be kept down to a few feet by pruning at the end of March down to a few feet off the ground. However this also removes the flowers which give it its smoky appearance as they are small but numerous. This shrub is easy to grow on most soils as long as drainage is good.