Replanting Vines Maintains Wine Production for Years to Come in White Pine Winery’s Sophie’s Vineyard
6 June 2011
Dr Dave Miller
White Pine Winery and Vineyards LLC
Springtime brings so many things – relief from a long, cold winter, anticipation for warm days, cookouts, swimming, camping, hiking, biking, open windows at night, no school for those climbing that ladder.... For those of us in agriculture we see the promise of another crop. In the wine business we think in terms of “another vintage” and hope that each year will produce stunning wines that will be the envy of the world. The source of each vintage is the grapevines growing quietly in the vineyards. If anything happens to the vines then we won’t have grapes for winemaking, which brings me to my point: vine replants.
In Sophie’s vineyard on our property near Lawton we grow Riesling, Cabernet franc and Regent. The vines were planted in 1999, the year our daughter, Sophie, was born hence the name. Since then we have lost some vines to various maladies and it was really starting to reduce the production potential of the vineyard. To make matters worse there was a problem called “Crown Gall” that was in some vines a few years ago and was now spreading through the Riesling block. I decided to pull the trigger and remove all the affected vines and replant this year. Now you may think that replanting Riesling is as simple as calling a nursery and ordering Riesling vines. In fact it is much more complicated than that. To begin with, the scion (as the upper part of the vine is called) is going to be Riesling but there are a number of Riesling “clones” from which one might choose. Each clone has specific characteristics in terms of growth, cold tolerance, growth habit, cluster morphology, and, most importantly, wine quality. Each of the clones has been isolated from vineyards primarily in Germany and verified as being different from other clones of Riesling. Each of the clones is propagated by cuttings of one-year-old wood and so they are clones in the truest sense – they are identical to the original, mother vine. What is fascinating is that Riesling first appears in the literature in Europe in the 10th century. So the vines we are growing today are direct, clonal descendants from those vines grown hundreds of years ago. The same is true for all of todays grape varieties – Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot gris etc. although few of today’s varieties date back as far as Riesling. Today’s Riesling clones are sourced from the Geisenheim institute which maintains mother blocks of hundreds of varieties and their clones. In the US we all plant materials originating outside of the country must pass through one of three plant quarantine stations run by the USDA. The main quarantine for grapevines is at UC Davis in California. UC Davis maintains a program known as the Foundation Plant Service that certifies grapevines are a) the correct variety and clone; b) free of virus and bacterial disease, and; c) available as propagation wood for nurseries in the US. They maintain a website called the National Grapevine Registry that is the source for information on grapevines in the US and one of the best sources world-wide. Check it out at http://ngr.ucdavis.edu/ .
All grapevines with European parentage (Vitis vinifera) must be grafted to a rootstock. That’s why we differentiate between scion and rootstock. The rootstocks used protect the vines primarily from a root pest called Phylloxera. The rootstock also influences the vines growth or “vigor”. There are many commercial rootstocks available with varying characteristics but that’s a topic for another blog. Selecting the correct rootstock is extremely important for the success of the vineyard. Keep in mind that we typically want a vineyard to bear fruit for at least 15 years and it takes four years to get the vines into production. With that kind of a time commitment we want to be sure everything is done right the first time.
Getting back to my replants for this spring, I called an excellent California nursery, Vintage Nurseries, and ordered Riesling clones 239, 198 and 110 on Couderc 3309 rootstock. The salesman informed me that they were sold out of Riesling 239 for this year – not unexpected as it makes superb wine. I was also informed that all of the vines on C3309 rootstock were sold out. Shoot! That’s why I usually like to order a year in advance. However, there were vines of Riesling 198, 110 and clone 90 on 101-14 Mgt rootstock. That is my next choice of rootstocks as it’s from the same parents as Couderc 3309. I placed my order and we planted the vines May 29th. Young vines require lots of TLC to help them grow big and strong and that’s exactly what they will get. I can almost taste the wine now….
Now we can insure full crops of Riesling for years to come. As I worked in the vineyard I looked at the young shoots growing and thought, “This is going to be an excellent vintage!”
p.s. Check out Riesling at the National Grapevine Registry and you can begin to get a feel for the world of grapevines out there. ( http://ngr.ucdavis.edu/)