Learning in the vineyard
Updated: Apr 23
If you like wine, this is something cool, something almost no one ever sees. Think you know grapes do you? Well this is the modern Dionysian ground zero - the modern grapevine farm were the point is not to grow grapes, but to produce budwood and rootstocks for grapevine grafting. This is the Nova Vine growing ground in Yolo County. This is where your rootstocks are grown, and this is where your budwood is snipped and bundled. Then they are shipped to Sonoma county where it is grafted together per order. Sounds boring you say? But wait, if you like grapes, this is an ampelographical crash course, a chance to see clonal variation and true rootstock growth up close and personal, and to taste the sweet result. This is one of two rootstock fields, this is what they actually look like in their true ungrafted form. Like Ivy they are opportunistic climbers, spreading in all directions until a tree gives them a trellis to climb. These could be St. George (though they usually have a touch of red at the edges), 110R, 101, 5C imagine all the possibilities! Rootstock are generally a neglected subject, but in the future we will be focusing much more attention on them. Being underground they aren't as glamorous as the clones above but water issues (and growing research) will be reframing that picture. There are huge problems with the rootstock choices people make - like 101 in Napa dominating the valley and not being drought tolerant and the dangers of monoculture. I have seen what poor rootstock/soil culture choices can bring with eternally struggling vines and desperate water stress and clear flavor results.
On to the trellised clones. Almost each of these rows has something different growing. Right now I think they have six different clones of Sangiovese side by side. That means you could personally observe (and taste!) the differences between Brunello, Lamole, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, two clones of Romagnolo, and another one I can't remember.
Of course the terroir here affects the grapes, sandy soil, hot zone 4 climate, lots of irrigation (these are grown for wood remember, not necessarily wine) leads to intense aromatics, but little body or color. Nova has a good hold on the Italian grapevine market (we have most of our vines through them), and they are producing whatever disease free clones Foundation Plant Services approves, so I will be keeping my eye on their Ribolla Gialla, Negro Amaro, etc... All those cool new things.
This is a row of Nebbiolo, clone FPS 11. (Dropped fruit allows for more shoot growth and budwood). FPS 11 is the new shizzle, supposedly the real Lampia clone that 01 pretended to be. It is about a month from ripeness, the tannins where enamel stripping, but notice the growing habit, its spindly canefulness must be cane pruned, not cordon because of its low basal bud fertility. Nebbiolo is a bizarre world unto itself, and even a month from ripeness, there where clear differences between the three clones in flavor.
This is the Negro Amaro row. The 400 we planted came from this row, so I thought a picture would be informative. Grenache-y style cane growth, Montepulciano-like leaf overlap, strange cluster morphology but a very different cropper. Notice how different the foliage is. Worlds apart flavor wise, and geographically in Italy. I could have taken 100 more pictures and bored you to death with the new Cab Franc clone I found and tasted, or how heat resistant the Fiano and Greco are, or how they have Teroldego now, or how, I'll just say it, "charming" the Grignolino was. Imagine a world-wide wine tasting - this is a global grape tasting. Carmenere, different Grenache clones, the saline Rousanne and the bassy Montepulciano. I think it is just awesome.
This was an older blog post that I have updated with a strong vein of wistful nostalgia. From 2007 to 2013 I was at the growing grounds regularly. A lot of my viticultural knowledge came from there, as well as thousands of vines I planted. I carefully watched how the vines grew, made wine, and then planted the vines. I befriended the managers and the crew, hopping fences to check sugars and schedule pick dates. I made Arneis, Greco, Tocai Friulano, Carmenere, Cab Franc, Nebbiolo, Refosco, Sangiovese (many types), Muscat, Petit Verdot and others from there. When my prior job fell into economic distress we ceased buying Nova grapes in 2014 and used only estate-grown fruit. I didn't make any wine at all in 2015 while desperately searching for financial partners to get my own winery started. I miss the spiders out there in Dunnigan, the blazing sun and the sandy soil, how the grapes were low on nitrogen but just able to complete fermentations without additions. The bubblegum smell of fermenting Sangiovese 102, the meager Carmenere crop, and Tocai that smelled and tasted like iced tea while fermenting. I made several 90-point vineyard-designate wines from this place, and I really really hope to revisit it in 2016 and get back to the business of learning the quiet language of what grapes have to say with Prima Materia.