Vitis vinifera



The type genus for the grape family, Vitis is composed of more than 60 species of woody deciduous vines predominantly from the northern hemisphere. Vitis vinifera is by far the most important fruiting species in the genus worldwide and the one almost universally grown in Australia. It is predominantly from the Mediterranean region, central Europe and south west Asia.  Cultivation of grapes dates back to at least 4000BC. More than 70MT pa are produced worldwide, making them one of the most extensively cultivated fruit crops. The first grapevine planting material arrived in Australia with white settlement in 1788.


Grapes are warm temperate zone plants, cultivated primarily within latitudes 34-49 degrees; however this range can be extended with special cultivar selection and management techniques.  Most commonly they are grown where temperatures for the mean warmest and coldest months are 18°C and -1°C respectively.  Extremes of long cold winters or very moist humid conditions in summer are detrimental to growth and yield.  In general, grapes need 150 – 180 frost-free days with temperatures above 10°C to grow, flower and set fruit.  In the dormant state they can withstand -20°C.  V. labrusca and its hybrids with V. vinifera are better suited to more tropical humid climates with wet summers.

Plant Description

Grapes are indeterminate, woody vines with flaky bark, strong tendrils and canes that can be more than 30m long if unpruned.  Cultivated varieties are extensively pruned with little resemblance to wild or unmanaged plants.  In temperate areas they are normally deciduous. There is an extensive root system, including to depths of 5m, which facilitates good uptake of water and nutrients.  Leaves are alternate, lobed or not and 20-25cm wide.  In each axil there is an over-wintering lateral bud complex.  The leaf-opposed central primary bud normally grows in spring and produces a shoot with 2 lateral inflorescences.  Tendrils derive from these same precursor structures.  Plants are usually hardy and long-lived.


Vitaceae Family. There are 60-80 species in the genus, with V. labrusca and the muscadine species being relatively minor crops. Virginia creeper is an ornamental one, as are the majority of the rest.


Not demanding provided there is good drainage.  Preference is pH 6-6.5 in light soils; if too fertile, undue vegetative rather than reproductive growth results.


Primarily by dormant cuttings that root very easily.  Grafting is used where particular features are sought, such as calcareous soil adaptation, nematode resistance or precocity.  Rootstocks other than vinifera are used where phylloxera (an aphid) infestation is established.


There are many table grape varieties grown in Australia, with and without seeds.  Examples are: early season (Dec-Jan) Cardinal and Flame Seedless; mid (Feb-Mar) Maroo Seedless, Muscat and Red Globe; and late (Mar-May) Crimson Seedless.  The early season cvs have reduced Medfly problems.

Flowering and Pollination

Inflorescences are panicles located at the node opposite each leaf, containing  60-1000 small (2-7mm) flowers.  Shoots can have 1-5 inflorescences.  The hermaphrodite flowers have rudimentary sepals, 5 petals fused into a cap, 5 stamens and a pistil with a superior ovary containing 2 carpels. Pollen is shed as the anthers ripen and is primarily transported by wind, though rarely more than 7 metres from the source.  All commercial grapes require pollination for fruit set and most need fertilization. Parthenocarpic varieties require the former but not the latter.  Common set is 25-75% but there may be considerable fruit drop soon after.  Seedlessness is popular in the market and is the result of parthenocarpy or stenospermocarpy.  Self-pollination following anthesis does not usually require a vector.  Warm conditions improve fruit set.


Plant in full sun.  No fruit should be carried for the first 2 years while establishing a framework that normally consists of a single stem with permanent arms from which each year’s crop will be produced.  Light fertilization with young plants will hasten development, but in the mature state care must be taken to guard against undue vegetative growth and consequent reduced flowering.  Deficiencies in P, K and Cu have been reported in WA coastal sands, and alkaline soils may require additional nutrient needs to be met.

Vines should have some sort of support as they climb by tendrils. They are best trained along wires or grown against and on top of fences. An elaborate system such as is used by vineyards is not necessary. Support is optional the first summer, but essential after that. However, another training system produces vines with thick, straight, free-standing trunks surmounted by a radial canopy of branches.

Wind Tolerance

Good with normal trellis or pergola support in place.


If plants are being grown for table grapes then they’ll need to be heavily pruned each year for best fruiting of large bunches and berries.  There are 2 main techniques, namely spur and cane pruning depending on the fruitful vigour of the variety, the former being more common than the latter.  For large bunches and berries, fruit thinning is also practiced. Pruning is best performed in late winter before buds along the branches begin to swell. Any and all twiggy growth growing from the main trunk or the main canes should be removed during this time period.

The key to grapevine pruning is having an understanding of the vine’s fruiting habit. Grapes produce the most fruit on shoots growing off 1-year-old canes. If you have too many old canes (from no pruning), then fewer grapes are obtained. Conversely, if vines are pruned back completely each year, then lots of new growth, but few grapes are obtained. For many varieties, renewal pruning is practiced: the vine is shaped to have 2 main arms. Each year in rotation, one arm is removed back to the first 2 buds.

Different varieties have the flower buds at different position along the canes. You must know which nodes will have the flower buds. This decides pruning length.

The Fruit

The fruit is a berry with 0-4 tan coloured seeds.  Skin colour and flesh ranges from pale green to red or deep purple-black. Fresh, ripe table grapes contain up to 15% sugars, plus there are many phenolic compounds that contribute to flavour and have valuable antioxidant properties.

Fruit Production and Harvesting

Commonly plants will fruit in the first 2-3 years after planting, with yield increasing over the next 2-3 seasons.  Fruit harvest may be 4-7 months after bloom.  It is critical to pick fruit at the right time to achieve the best balance of acidity, sugars and other volatiles for maximal flavour.  Fruit do not ripen further after harvest.  Table grapes are commonly harvested by hand whereas machine harvesting is more common for production of wine, dried fruit and juice.  Rain during the ripening period can cause fruit splitting. Often grapes have good size and colour one week before the sugar content is sufficiently high. After the sugar content has peaked, quality deteriorates rapidly. A hand-held refractometer provides a simple means of estimating the sugar content in grapes and other fruit.

Fruit Uses

Most grapes are used in making wine, but table grapes can be eaten raw or they can be used for making juice, jelly, vinegar, grape seed extract, raisins, currants, sultanas, grape seed oil or fermented to produce wine. They can be stored for up to 3  months if kept at 1°C

Pests and Diseases

Humidity increases disease load that may require regular attention and spraying.  Major pests in WA are mites, caterpillars, weevils, nematodes and birds, with the latter usually requiring bagging or netting of the bunches or vines respectively.The main diseases are powdery mildew, anthracnose and severe viral infections.


Grapes grow very well in south west WA with our long hot dry summers.  Some management tasks will need to be addressed to get handsome loads of fresh fruit every year. A traditional siting for grape vines is a trellis built over a patio or footpath.

More Information

Grapes, wines and health

Grapes are consumed in fresh table form, as dried product (eg raisins and sultanas), as unfermented juice and in more recent times as dried powders for nutritional supplements. However, most of the world product is used to produce a variety of wines and other alcoholic beverages. Historically they’ve been part of cultural, religious, medical and celebratory practices for millennia. The following commentary on their place in our health and well-being is in two parts, the first briefly on the various non-fermented products, and the second in more detail on the fermented forms given this is how most product is consumed.

These different products are very popular as snacks given their aromas and sweet flavour, particularly the seedless varieties, and they also make a valuable contribution to our total fruit and vegetable dietary intake which has been shown to have preventive benefits against a broad range of chronic diseases. The conventional nutrients in grapes are not especially superior to others, with high sugar content of 10-20% when fresh being the most prominent feature, while still having a glycaemic load classed as low-medium. Most of their positive health effects are thought to be due to numerous phytochemicals. Together, levels of these are also generally comparable to a number of other fruits (eg polyphenol and antioxidant activity is not clearly superior to others) but one component, resveratrol found in high concentration in grapes, has received particular attention. Study of the properties of individual compounds is indispensable in providing understanding of their fate and effects in the body and was pivotal in addressing historical nutritional deficiency states, but assessing their impact on preventive health effects and future well-being in real life diets has been largely unproductive because so many ingredients all make their contributions. In this situation, the holistic approach considering total dietary patterns has proved more successful as ingredients can interact in synergistic and antagonistic ways.

There have been thousands of laboratory and animal-based studies on all these phytochemicals, documenting a great variety of positive effects. These have subsequently been further explored in human epidemiological studies to establish whether they have merit, but interpretation of results suffers from many limitations, including confounding factors not accounted for, patient and subject recall, and bias in completing diet questionnaires, comparability of subject controls etc. We still have relatively few prospective controlled trials in humans showing clinically significant outcomes under realistic conditions, but this could change dramatically in coming years as many studies are currently underway. As with many fruits and their components, there is considerable variation in their effects due to variations in horticultural conditions experienced during fruit production and which parts of the fruit are considered as skins are more often higher in nutrients than flesh. Dried forms have high glycaemic load with up to 80% carbohydrate. They may have been treated with sulphur dioxide and components may have suffered some degradation, juice may have almost no fibre content depending on processing technique, and the value of supplements will depend on appropriate dosing and reproducibility between batches. We also need to know much more about the active forms of these phytochemicals and their absorption, metabolism and excretion to understand the nature and magnitude of effects. A further complication is that many are extensively metabolised by gut microflora before being absorbed or excreted, and as we all have different microbiomes, this can lead to variation in effects between people.

Two studies with encouraging outcomes can serve as illustrations of the sort of work that has been undertaken to date on these products. In the first, an epidemiological case-control study examined the relationship between fruit, vegetable and soy intake on breast cancer risk in Korean women. There were 359 cases and 708 matching controls. No association was found between intake of total fruit, vegetables or soy food and cancer, but increased consumption of grapes, tomatoes and cooked soybeans reduced risk by 34, 38 and 33% resp after allowing for several confounding factors. In the second, the effect of daily consumption of a concentrated red grape powder for 12 weeks on blood pressure, flow-mediated dilatation (FMD, an important measure of arterial function) and oxidative stress was investigated in 50 subjects with pre- and mild-hypertension. Subjects were randomised into 3 groups that consumed 0, 200 or 400mg of the grape powder. They found a significant improvement in FMD, a significant decrease in lipid peroxidation, and diastolic blood pressure also decreased with the 200mg dose. No adverse effects were reported.

Wine, beer, cider and distilled liquor

We’re all painfully aware that when any of these fermented alcoholic beverages are consumed in excess they can have devastating effects on individuals and societies. Consequently these habits should be avoided, managed or reversed if possible, and no more will be said on these high dose addiction problems. On the other hand, it’s commonly believed and frequently promoted in the popular media that more moderate, low intakes can have beneficial effects on health and well-being, as might possibly be expected with a product derived from fruit, provided the beneficial ingredients have not been destroyed in processing and addition of other unhealthy chemicals has been minimised. As with un-fermented products there have been hundreds of studies addressing this phenomenon in laboratory, animal or epidemiological settings but few carefully controlled clinical trials in humans.

The strongest general trait shown is in prevention or management of cardiovascular disease (CVD), still the biggest cause of morbidity and mortality in the developed world, and rapidly becoming so in developing countries. Moderate and regular wine consumption is thought to be the explanation for the ‘French Paradox’, where in France there’s a high consumption of wine but lower incidence of CVD than elsewhere in Europe and the US, despite the population generally having increased risk in several of the classical disease markers. Further studies have led to the suggestion that red wine is better than white wine, beer, distilled products, grapes and grape juice etc because of the alcohol and polyphenol contents; white wines, beers and liqueurs have zero or very little polyphenols and grape products no alcohol . However these findings and conclusions are not universal or generally conceded, as summarised in the following 2008 review of the literature (Clinical Cardiology, 31, 347–351).

Studies evaluating the health benefits of alcohol and wine have demonstrated that moderate consumption is associated with a decrease in all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. Various populations and alcoholic beverages exhibit this effect to different degrees. Alcoholic beverages exhibit multiple mechanisms that may favourably influence cardiac risk potential actions on platelets, antioxidants, fibrinolysis, and lipids. However, other data suggest that the perceived benefits of alcoholic beverages in general, and wine in particular, are the result of socioeconomic confounders. In the absence of more rigorous evidence, it is not currently possible to define the role of wine in human health. Further quotes from this study help to flesh out their analysis and conclusions:
  • Most, but not all, studies suggest that red wine uniquely reduces morbidity/mortality compared with other alcoholic beverages.
  • Certain components of wine may have potential health benefits, but require purified forms of the  compounds ingested at levels far higher than those achieved through moderate wine consumption.
  • It is essential to recognize that the reported benefits of alcohol have been noted predominantly in cohort  epidemiological analyses and assessments of isolated effects of alcohol and wine consumption in  populations, which leaves them subject to multiple confounding factors.
  • An innovative study of 3.5 million supermarket transactions in Denmark revealed that those who  purchased wine also made healthier food choices, such as olives, fruits, and vegetables. Individuals who  purchased beer bought more pre-cooked food, sugar, cold cuts, chips, pork, butter, and sausage.
  • It would seem reasonable to recommend that patients who currently drink try to move towards moderate  consumption of wine over that of beer and spirits. There is currently insufficient evidence to recommend  that abstainers initiate drinking for health benefits, or for light drinkers to increase their alcohol  consumption.

In a separate study, interview data collected from 12,958 young US adults who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health were analysed to determine whether wine preference was related to educational, health and lifestyle characteristics that are predictive of long-term morbidity and mortality. Wine drinkers generally had more formal education, better dietary and exercise habits, and more favourable health status indicators (e.g., normal body mass) than other drinkers and non-drinkers. A larger proportion of wine drinkers were light-moderate drinkers compared to beer or liquor drinkers, and wine drinkers were less likely to report smoking or problem drinking than beer or liquor drinkers. These findings indicate that wine preference in young adulthood is related to educational, health and lifestyle characteristics that may help to explain the association between light-moderate wine consumption and morbidity and mortality risk in later adulthood so often reported in the epidemiological literature and public media.

Given the contentious nature of beneficial effects of low dose alcohol in CVD, is it sensible hoping to capitalise on these possible health outcomes when you consider the effects of such doses on other disease risks? For example, a large 2009 study of 1,280,296 middle-aged women in the UK examined the effect of moderate intake of alcohol and different types of alcohol on the risk of 21 site-specific cancers. A quarter of the cohort were abstainers and 98% of drinkers consumed an average of 10g alcohol/d; for a wine of 13% alcohol this is equivalent to 77ml, ie low intake. In the 7.2 years of follow-up there were 68,775 invasive cancers. Again, women who drank wine exclusively tended to be more affluent, to be leaner, take strenuous exercise more frequently and were less likely to be current smokers compared with other drinkers. For every extra 10g/d increase in alcohol intake, cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx increased by 29%, oesophagus 22%, larynx 44%, rectum 10%, liver 24% and breast 12%. In cancers of the upper aero-digestive tract the alcohol-increased risk was confined to current smokers with little or no effect on never or past smokers.

And back to considering CVD, recent development of more powerful Mendelian randomisation genetic techniques that aren’t subject to the well-known limitations of conventional epidemiological approaches indicate there is no benificial low dose alcohol effect. The nutritional summary of all this is that unfermented grape products can make a healthy contribution to your diet, whereas the benefits of grape-derived alcoholic beverages are more dubious, run the risk of habitual consumption escalating out of control, and there may be negative effects on some chronic diseases even at low intakes. If grape products form part of your diet, give preference to the former preferably fresh forms if possible.