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Published: Friday, 8/12/2011 - Updated: 4 years ago

Bob Bunda: The hillside vineyard experiment

Bob and Betsy Bunda in their vineyard with red grapes
on the right and white grapes on the left. Bob and Betsy Bunda in their vineyard with red grapes on the right and white grapes on the left.

Name: Bob Bunda, attorney, living in Rossford.

Garden specs: 160 grape vines on the east bank of the Maumee River.

When did you start gardening? I was wondering about how to prevent erosion on the hill and was inspired during a 2005 visit to the Piedmont region in Italy by all the hillside vineyards. That year, I started clearing almost impenetrable brush and trees on the hill. In 2006, I planted white grapes; in 2007, the reds.

What do you grow? A French hybrid grape called Cayuga white and a French hybrid red called Marquette. They're supposedly less susceptible to disease, fungus, and cold. I wanted something that could withstand the wind this hillside gets in winter. I've also planted No-Mow grass between the rows and some wild flowers above the vines. Betsy, my wife, is campaigning for rose bushes at the end of rows and we've planted two. Some commercial vineyards plant roses because they're an indicator of a vineyard's health. We haven't made wine yet. The first couple of years I clipped grape clusters to encourage root growth and formation of the cordons (horizontal "arms" that produce the vine-bearing shoots). The next two years, the crop was eaten by deer. Last fall, we put up an electric fence.

We're hoping we'll be able to harvest a 2011 crop and continue this experiment in viticulture. We get lots of boat traffic turning in to take a closer look, and we spend a lot of time waving to the groups on the Sandpiper that go by on the weekends.

Favorite plant: A vigorous white-grape vine I've named "My Cousin Vinny."

Give us a gardening tip: Wear baseball cleats. Seriously. I can't tell you how many times I've fallen on that hill, until I bought a pair of used baseball shoes. They work like a charm and have saved my backside a lot of wear and tear. I'm not sure how widely this tip can be used by flatlanders, though.

On a more generally useful note, be ruthless in pruning grape vines. Some of our vines are pretty prolific, and you have to prune so the growth and energy go to the grape clusters, not to new shoots.

Hours spent gardening: Wow. I guess I choose not to hazard a guess but it's time consuming, that's for sure. It took a year-and-a-half to set up the vineyard: clearing brush, killing persistent tree shoots (I drilled holes in dozens of stumps and poured in Roundup), digging post holes in clay and rocks, stringing a mile of wire for five-foot-tall trellises, reseeding bare spots on the hill that wouldn't hold grass.

A view of the Bunda home and vineyard from the Maumee
River. A view of the Bunda home and vineyard from the Maumee River.

Now, it's down to pruning in the spring, cutting the No-Mow grass once in the spring when it goes to seed, tying shoots to the trellis, pruning shoots in the summer, and spraying for bugs.

Annual expense: Again, I choose not to total it up. Start up (vines, posts, wire, irrigation, electric fence, netting, books) was a couple thousand dollars. We still need to buy some wine-making equipment. Maybe once we make wine, we can sell it and charge off the expense as a hobby-farm deduction. Or, maybe we'll just be good at making vinegar. Otherwise, the ongoing cost is for a little pesticide and a plastic-stretch tape to tie up the vines.

Challenges: Digging more than 50 post holes almost killed me. My son and I dragged that darn 80-pound gas-powered post-hole digger all over that hill, and some parts were so steep I couldn't use it and had to dig three-feet-deep holes by hand. The soil was full of rocks which made it miserable.

I'm trying to live-trap a ground hog that has taken up housekeeping in the vineyard. And then there's the deer. I think I have them stymied with the electric fence, but I can't be sure of that until the grapes get sweet this fall. We'll see. Plan B: I have lots of hunter friends who've offered their services but I'm not sure my neighbors would approve.

I'm proud of: Getting this into the ground and growing. It looks pretty neat from the river and it's unique. Besides, when pruning, I get to spend some quiet time down there and it's a total change of pace from my job. I get to work with my hands and let the brain rest for a while.

What I've learned gardening: That remains to be seen. My legs have gotten in pretty good shape for winter skiing because I'm climbing up and down that hill all the time. The vineyard looks nice, and I have a sense of accomplishment. But the big pay off will be when we can open a bottle of our own Chateau Bunda, take a sip, and enjoy its taste.

The Blade seeks gardeners for Weed It & Reap who are as varied as what they grow and who dig in gardens large, small, and with unusual content. In a sentence, tell us what is unique about you or your garden. Contact Tahree Lane at tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.

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