Graft Without Corruption

From John, May 2nd, 2013
Newly grafted Pinot noir canes at Cameron Winery

Newly grafted Pinot noir canes at Cameron Winery

In the late 19th century when the European wine industry was literally imploding due to a little root louse called Phylloxera, many vignerons fled to South America and California. Fortunately for those who stayed, a viable solution was discovered and the vineyards were eventually saved.

The answer was found associated with the source of the infection, which started when native North American grape vines were imported to the culture collection in Montpillier, France. Phylloxera rode along as a contaminant on the roots of those vines but soon escaped to begin its devastation of the vineyards of France and elsewhere But since the host vines had adapted to the little insects, the solution was found in the host vines themselves.

It turns out that European grape vines (Vitis vinifera) can be attached to the roots of North American grape vines. Over the last 100+ years, as you might imagine, a large number of North American cultivars of “rootstock” have been made by crossing various genotypes (that is plants of unique genetic character). While all of these are resistant to phylloxera to a greater or lesser extent, other aspects have also been selected for. These include drought tolerance, resistance to other parasites, root depth and so on.

Since phylloxera eventually hitched a ride from Europe to the West Coast of North America, these rootstocks are as essential to the vineyards of California and Oregon as they are to Europe. In all these viticultural areas, many vignerons have learned how  to join the scion (the part that provides the aerial part of the plant) to the root stock in a process known as “grafting”. Since the vineyards at Cameron contain a huge inventory of different clones of Pinot noir and Chardonnay as well as many Italian varieties, the only viable solution to expanding or replacing sections of the vineyard is to graft the vines ourselves. At first I thought “well, this isn’t rocket science” but after my first gallant attempts, I had to adjust that cogitation.

There are so many steps in the process of a critical nature that the overall success rate can often be quite small. From lining up the appropriate sizes of root stock and scion to getting the moisture correct in the perlite where callusing occurs to the temperature of the callus box to dipping the callused vines in wax at the perfect temperature to rooting in potting soil and so on. At the end of the process, one hopes to see a greenhouse full of little green shoots popping out of tiny grape vines.

Pinot Noir vines at Cameron winery 3 weeks after grafting

Pinot Noir vines three weeks after grafting

Newly grafted vines hanging out in the Cameron Winery greenhouse

Newly grafted vines hanging out in the greenhouse

Share This

Recent News & Rants

The 2013 vintage saved… by a website

In the fall, as grape clusters are nearing their state of perfection, it is rain and the temperature associated with it that I keep a vigilant eye on. Depending on the year, “the ripe zone” for Pinot noir can range from several days to 2 weeks. In the latter part of September 2013, The University of Washington Department of Meteorology predicted a major storm rolling into Oregon. Thanks to a heads up from their website, we scheduled picking for 5 consecutive days, and brought our grapes in just before several inches of warm rain nearly destroyed the 2013 crop.

There’s More... >

The growing season for 2015 was the hottest and driest on record, yet because grape vines are actually quite hardy and adapt readily to harsh conditions, our dry farmed grapes fared just fine.

There’s More... >
Send in the Clones!

The next time that you are wondering why one vineyard produces lofty mind boggling wines and another right near it does not, consider the clones!
In Burgundy, the most famous vineyards are composed of an enormous number of different clones within the same small plot of land. The idea, worked out over centuries, is that a vineyard which possesses the most genetic variation will produce wines of the greatest complexity.
Fortunately many of the old clones brought to California by pioneer grape growers still persist in select vineyards across California and Oregon.

There’s More... >

More newsletters?
We’ve got your archive
right here...

... for anything your heart desires: a wine, a retailer, a rant, a newsletter, true love (if you’re not too picky). It’s all one convenient, global search away:

(or close this incredibly helpful search tool).