I have been told great wine is made in the vineyard. I believe this to be true because no matter how good a winemaker is there is only so much they can do in the winery to improve a wine made from average grapes. There are a myriad of factors effecting grape quality in a vineyard but it all starts with the vine. Virtually all wine grapes in the U.S., with the exception of those grown in Washington state, are grown on grafted vines. Grafted vines have Phylloxera resistant rootstock with scions of a varietal wine grape grafted to it. Phylloxera is a tiny aphid-like insect that feeds on the roots of the Vitis vinifera grape.
In the not-so-distant past the world’s wine vineyards were devastated by this pest but it isn’t the only threat to the vines. There is a long list of disease, fungus, mold and pests of all shapes and sizes that can damage a vineyard. Dagger and Rootknot are caused by Nematodes (microscopic worms) and are a common problem in the eastern U.S. but their threat can be lessened by choosing the correct rootstock for your situation. Because there are so many factors to consider when choosing a vine for your site it is important to evaluate the characteristic of each rootstock to match it to the needs of your vineyard. The 3309c rootstock is the most widely used rootstock in the eastern U.S. and it can be said that eastern viticulture is built on it.
In Washington they grow grapes on own rooted vines that makes them susceptible to Phylloxera, although Phylloxera has never been reported there. The advantage of own rooted vines is that if they are damaged they can regrow from the roots while if a grafted vine is damaged below the graft it has to be replaced or regrafted. A study comparing grapes grown on own rooted vs. grafted vines showed for all practical purposes there was no difference in the quality of fruit produced.
The Grafted Grapevine Nursery in Clifton Springs, NY was started in 1957 by Herman and Ute Amberg while Herman was working for Dr. N. Shaulis at Cornell University’s Geneva Experimental Station. They specialize primary in one year old bench-grafts but a few varieties are available as own rooted. While looking for Saperavi vines I had the pleasure to correspond with Herman and Ute’s son and Operations Manager Eric. The following is an excerpt from an email Eric sent me in response to my questions about the availability of grafted Saperavi vines and his opinion on a planting density plan for Saperavi.
“We will be propagating extra Saperavi this year to compensate for its sudden surge in interest. Regarding the planting density for Saperavi. The number of vines is a factor of row spacing and vine density within the row. Row spacing is based more on your equipment than the vine’s need. The standard spacing in most of the eastern half of the country is 9 feet. Density within the row is based more on the vines vigor and training system. We have found that a 7 foot spacing works well. Therefore 691 vines/acre would be appropriate.”
We sometimes forget just how much thought, effort, cash investment and yes, good luck goes into a great bottle of wine. Contact info: graftedgrapevines.com