Grape: Is it challenging fruit to grow locally?


Photo shows grapes grown in an orchard in Limbang.

THERE had been several grape-planting trials conducted by local hobbyists highlighted across different media in the past. Recently, a friend from Limbang sent a video of his vineyard, which garnered a host of excited viewers.

As the saying ‘seeing is believing’, such proof was good enough for me.

Personally, I had once attempted to plant it, but without success.

The vine-cutting was taken to my orchard at Siburan, near Kuching.

My thinking was that the cooler atmosphere there might produce a good outcome, but it did not.


Grapes are botanically berries. Today, there are many varieties of grapes – from those originating from temperate countries, to those cultivated in the tropical highlands.

Classified under the genus ‘Vitis’ in the family ‘Vitaceae’, grapes are one of the oldest cultivated plants, having made a huge impact on human civilisation – nutritionally, socially and culturally.

The cultivation dates back more than 5,000 years in Egypt, and was highly developed by the Greeks and the Romans.

Grapes are also the most important ingredient in wine, which is perhaps the most significant product deriving from this plant. The earliest known winery was in Armenia circa 4000 BC.

The growth of the plant is typically divided into three phases, with the first being the sprouting phase, followed by blooming where the berries would begin to change colour, and ending with maturity when the colour has fully developed, the level of acidity reduced and the sugar content increased.

There are three major families of the grapes:

  • The Rotundiflolia, grown in the south-eastern parts of the United States. They are mainly for wine-making.
  • The Labrusca, or table grapes – another American variety, always available in grocery stores. They have low pH and sugar levels, and make sweet wines.
  • The Vinifera, found in parts of Asia and Europe and has high sugar content.

Grapes are delicious, refreshing and nourishing. They contain minerals like calcium, phosphorus and iron, together with vitamins N1 and B2.

Originally a temperate-climate fruit, it has adapted to the sub-tropical and highland regions as well, as long as it is handled accordingly. In Malaysia, there is the ‘Taman Anggur Perlis’ (Perlis Vineyard).

Plant growth is basically affected by the pH level of the soil.

Typically, grapes grow in bunches amidst climbing vines. Supported by tendrils, the plant can grow up to 50 feet (15m). In an arid region, it may be an erect shrub.

The leaves have multiple lobes with toothed (serrated) edges and pointed tips, and they are edible too.

The flowers, which are greenish, grow in clusters before fruit formation.

The colour of the berries ranges from red, purple, green, amber and yellow.

The anthocyanins and other chemical pigments are responsible for the varying shades, which also influence the colour of the wine that a particular grape variety produces.

Grape seeds have low tannins content, around four to six per cent.

Of course, there are also seedless grapes.

Growing of grapes

Having gone through various websites, I have come to a conclusion that the cultivation of grapes in our environment requires a number of key factors.

It should be done under a rain shelter to provide shade and also as cover from heavy rain.

The use of rich compost incorporated with charcoal, coco-peat and organic nutrients should be considered as the medium for growth. However, grapes require light – and the accompanying warmth – for the process of ripening.

The bare root vines need to be soaked in water and have all the canes removed before planting.

Trim off broken or excessively long roots. Prepare a hole large enough for the root system to spread out, and mound soil over it.

Polybag-planting is also recommended in our environment, in which nutrients can be administered into the medium via tubes. Mulching may not be required if the soil temperature is sufficiently cool.

Water the vines regularly to establish the shoots.

Also remember, grapevines need support for growth – there should be a trail or a fence for the vines to crawl along.

As grapes are perennial vines, pruning is needed to keep them healthy in the tropics – I have been told that the plucking of leaves is necessary to initiate the growth of flowers, of which the pollen can be carried away by wind or insects.

Happy Gardening!