The chance of success with growing grapes outdoors in Scotland is down to a range of factors, such as choosing varieties that will ripen fruit in a cooler climate, selection of a sheltered and warmer usually south facing site, and good growing husbandry.
All of these things are in our control, but they are not the end of the story.
Grapes need warmth and sunshine to grow and produce fruit which will ripen, then in autumn a period of really good weather is essential to sweeten up the grapes so they are either delicious to eat or have enough sugar content to produce wine with at least a 10% alcohol level or even higher.
Our present climate in Scotland is a bit lacking in warmth and sunshine so we rely on the unpredictable nature of our climate to give us those better than normal good years, but then what do we do with our grapes in the normal years. In time climate change with a wee bit of global warming might suit some parts of Scotland but at the expense of the rest of the world.
However it might just mean we get warmer temperatures but with a lot more rain, so the challenge to establishing a successful vineyard is still a problem.
Although attempts have been made in the past to establish Scottish vineyards and some continue today, they are probably totally reliant on favourable weather becoming more of a normal feature.
If Scotland should experience a period of better than normal weather this will encourage more gardeners and growers to experiment on a small scale with grape production as we all love to rise to a decent challenge.
It will be down to these new entrepreneurs to try out numerous varieties to see which best suits our climate and soils, but then we may find the best solution by breeding desirable characteristics from a range of varieties and in time (could be thirty to fifty years) we might have Scottish bred vines to grow and crop successfully in commercial vineyards.
Gardeners working on a smaller scale do not have the same problems.
This year I picked some Seigerrebe grapes growing in my cold greenhouse in the middle of August.
This variety has sweet Muscat flavoured grapes producing numerous bunches of small grapes which favours wine.
However after crushing, the grape must gave a 1.092 specific gravity reading, which is high enough to achieve an alcoholic content of at least 11%.
As this was my first year with Seigerrebe and I only had enough liquid for one demijohn, which won’t get bottled for a couple of years.
Last year the weather was not on our side, so grape sugar content could have been better.
I left harvesting as late as possible waiting for some sunshine, so picking was done both outdoors and under glass during the first week of November.
I mixed my Black Hamburg from the glasshouse with Phoenix grown outdoors on a south facing fence and a heavy crop of the ornamental vine Brant.
Brant produces numerous small bunches of black sweet grapes. I had enough for two demijohns.
After crushing I only achieved a specific gravity reading of 1064, which would only give me about 8% alcohol, so some water and grape concentrate were required to produce wine.
2016 has been a better year, as the east of Scotland has been relatively dry and reasonably warm, but we could have done with more sunshine in autumn to sweeten up the grapes.
Harvesting started at the end of October with Regent, Rondo and Phoenix, all grown on south facing fences, and Brant on a south facing wall. Black Hamburg from my cold glasshouse was added into the blend.
My other three outdoor grape varieties Solaris, Polo Muscat and Muscat Bleu never produced any grapes whatsoever, so they are still under review.
Brant grapes grown on my south facing wall were picked first week November and after crushing will give two demijohns of red wine, but needed some sugar to give me 11% alcohol strength.
Wee jobs to do this week
As cold weather is just round the corner get ready to lift the dahlias if any frost is threatening.
Cut back the plants to about six inches and put the tops on the compost heap. Lift the dahlia tubers and remove as much soil as possible.
Tie a label with the variety name to the main stem. I bring in my tubers to my cold greenhouse for drying off before storing them in boxes in the frost free garage.