Growing & Winemaking


Grapevine Nurseries Booming

February 2012
by Paul Franson
    Disease threats in nurseries

    Recent reports contend that an aerial form of phylloxera has been infecting nurseries. Eckhard Kaesekamp of Guillaume Nurseries said, “Aerial phylloxera stops the growth of plants. It doesn’t transmit diseases, but if you don’t catch it, you can’t sell the plants. So you spray it, and it’s done.”

    Lucian Dressel of Davis Viticultural Research said the major problem in the eastern United States is the Japanese beetle. “It loves all grapevines, and the Davis vines are no exception. The beetle can be controlled well with Sevin, however.”

    Great River Vineyard & Nursery’s John Marshall said some cultivars such as Frontenac and all its color phases get leaf galls of phylloxera intermittently, ranging from none to severe deformation of the leaf canopy. There are several sprays that are effective in controlling this problem, he said.
With the dramatic shift from a glut of winegrapes to a possible shortage this year, it’s not surprising that sales are booming at grapevine nurseries. “It’s the largest year in memory,” said John Duarte, president of Duarte Nursery in Hughson, Calif. “Sales are double what they’ve been in the past few years, and we’ll graft 12 million vines this year.”

He said that in the past, grapevines represented about 20% of his firm’s sales (as did both almond and pistachio trees), but next year, viticulture may account for 35%-40% of business by dollars—even though those nut trees are in great demand.

Duarte added that the nursery, California’s largest, is sold to capacity and could have sold more vines if it had them. As a result, it is adding 4.5 acres of greenhouses for growing vines, a 15% increase in capacity, and plans a similar expansion next year. It’s part of a two-year, 20-acre expansion project that will increase Duarte’s total production capacity by 50%.

Duarte’s success is not atypical. Eckhard Kaesekamp, California general manager for Guillaume Nurseries in Knights Landing, Calif., also reported that sales had doubled from the previous year and lamented that they couldn’t supply all demand. French-owned Guillaume is the third-largest vineyard nursery company in the world. It acquired Kaesekamp’s Lake County nursery in February 2011.

At Vintage Nurseries in Wasco, Calif., director of sales Dustin Hooper said the company is planting a new, 100-acre mother block with only Foundation Plant Services (FPS) 2010 Protocol Material varieties and rootstocks.

John Duarte added that large wineries are seeking land to plant grapes, but they can’t find suitable space due to competition from nut trees, cherries and citrus. “Farming is good across the board; the only guys being hurt are those who raise animals, largely due to the political deals diverting corn for ethanol.”

What’s popular?
John Duarte provided insight about popular varieties: “Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely back. Chardonnay is doing well on the coast, but not in the San Joaquin Valley.” He added, as did Allied Grape Growers president Nat DiBuduo at a recent meeting, that growers are planting French Colombard widely once again for generic and sweet wines.

During the past few years, Muscat of Alexandria and Muscat Canelli have been widely planted, but Duarte says wineries are “taking a break” to assess the impact of those plantings. He noted that Muscat of Alexandria provides enormous yields—22 tons and up per acre, which gives a decent return at $300 to $350 per ton.

Zinfandel is in demand in Lodi, Calif. “Both red and white Zin were in very short supply last year,” Duarte said. In spite of suggestions that white Zin is fading, he said large plantings have been made in Madera and Fresno, Calif. “The blends, white Zin and Muscats, that’s where new drinkers come from.” In addition, he said that large wineries are planting niche varieties like southern Italian and Spanish grapes in the interior valley.

Guillaume’s general manager, Kaesekamp, added that Malbec has really picked up—from 20,000 vines in the past to 50,000 now. Muscat is hot in the valley, but not on the coast. He said that Riesling is picking up on the North Coast. He’s seen no change in Merlot, while the formerly popular Pinot Gris is just holding its own. “It’s already heavily planted in the valley for high tonnage. It’s not a big variety on the coast.”

Dustin Hooper of Vintage Nurseries reinforced that growers are planting Colombard, Muscat Alexandria, Viognier and Riesling, all for sweet white wines. Barbera is popular for red blends. He also agreed that business is on an upswing.

Mercier Grapevines in Vacaville, Calif., a family-owned grapevine nursery since 1890, offers dormant benchgrafts (bareroot), green vines and rootings from ENTAV-INRA, FPS and custom-clone grafting. “We have some exclusive Mercier clones such as Malbec and Carmenere,” said Sebastian Traviesa. “Some growers are looking for alternative varieties to differentiate their business.”

At Appellation Trading Co., a negociant wine company in Napa, Calif., Paul Shakeshaft suggests little changes. “There is a need to replace about 5% to 10% of vineyards per year. Some things get delayed, but right now it is at least that busy in Napa and Sonoma,” he said. “Many of the vines going in around Napa now are particularly engineered for a hotter world, and folks want to know the metrics on those choices.”

He added, “One varietal area that is getting wiped out is the Italian grape Sangiovese. That stuff is hard to sell.”

On the other hand, he is working on some China-bound projects for wineries. “The Chinese are buying Cab, Cab, Cab. More will be planted to satisfy that market.”

Rootstock choices

Mercier’s Sebastian Traviesa noted that higher vigor rootstocks such as R110 and P1103 are coming back onto the scene, but fanleaf virus is a real problem in certain areas, and 039.16 is the only choice.
< br /> Hooper at Vintage said Freedom, Harmony, 1103R and 101-14 roostocks are most popular.

Grey Creek Nursery in Healdsburg, Calif., sells budwood for field grafting. It claims to offer the largest selection of grafting materials. “We source materials mostly from California, but also reach out to many different states to find other varieties as needed,” owner Chris Lindelof said. “Cabernet Sauvignon is very active; red varieties with lots of color are also popular. Merlot also seems to be making a little bit of a comeback—finally!” He added that floral white varieties like Muscats, Riesling and Gewurztraminer are also popular.

Lindelof said that every year certified materials from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and FPS are increasingly popular. The fact that viruses such as grapevine leafroll disease are moving via vectors other than propagation has heightened growers’ awareness. About 90% of the materials that Grey Creek supplies to the industry are CDFA/FPS certified.

In Junction City, Ore., Brigadoon Vineyard is a rootstock/scion wood nursery that is certified by the Oregon Department of Agriculture with annual inspections. Among its offerings are Riparia Gloire, C-3309, 101-14, 1103-P and Schwarzmann rootstocks; fruiting clones of Pinot Noir 115, 777, Pommard 4 and 2A; Pinot Blanc 159 and 161, and Riesling 110, 198 and 239.

Brigadoon is replacing its older rootstock blocks with all new material from Washington State University’s Irrigated Ag Research and Extension Center in Prosser, Wash. It enjoys an isolated location and planting in virgin soils so it is not affected by phylloxera and other pests. “We produce approximately 300,000 cuttings annually,” said owner Chris Shown.

Eastern nursery report

Great River Vineyard & Nursery in Lake City, Minn., began growing grapes in Minnesota in the mid-1970s, when virtually no one else was. Today, John Marshall specializes in extremely cold-hardy hybrid grapes. He said the University of Minnesota’s hybrids are most in demand, with Marquette being the No. 1 seller of cold-hardy winegrapes. He now offers three color phases of the University of Minnesota’s original Frontenac grape: Frontenac, Frontenac Gris and Frontenac Blanc. Marshall said he also hopes to offer a Swenson hybrid, Osceola Muscat, which produces a Muscat-flavored wine from a cold-hardy vine.

Grafted Grapevine Nursery in Clifton Springs, N.Y., is approaching its 55th year. Christian Avanzato says hybrids are becoming more and more enticing due to their winter hardiness, proven wine success, popular growing habits and the fact that they are more sustainable than vinifera in cold climates. “At the same time, it is safe to say that Riesling, Chardonnay and Merlot are still the most requested varieties,” he said.

Lucian Dressel, president of Davis Viticultural Research in Carrollton, Ill., said that the company is devoted exclusively to breeding and selling new, patented grape varieties that have Norton as one parent. Norton is very popular in Missouri and parts of the East Coast. Many experts suspect that it is a hybrid of one or more native varieties and one Vitis vinifera grape.

This year Davis partnered with Forrest Keeling Nursery of Elsberry, Mo., which grew its dormant rooted vines and also produced plants by their patented RPM rooting method that incorporates a fungus into the root system to form a synergistic relationship that greatly enhances the vine’s ability to take up water and nutrients. “The vines grow more rapidly and fruit earlier,” Dressel claimed.

This spring, Davis is releasing two new white varieties: White Norton (Cabernet Sauvignon X Norton) and Aphrodite (Portuguese white variety X Norton). Dressel describes both as having 100% vinifera character, White Norton being Sauvignon Blanc-like and Aphrodite resembling Pinot Grigio.

Since the Davis vines have one Norton parent, they are highly disease resistant and don’t suffer from late-season rots. Dressel said, “They are becoming increasingly popular with organic growers and those who simply wish to reduce the amount of pesticide usage. There is also a surge in interest in areas such as the mid-South, where high humidity and rain can be a problem during veraison.”

Good times have come to grapevine nurseries, but that could create a problem for growers: shortages of desired plants. John Duarte suggests that this is a good time to visit nurseries and get to know your suppliers—and be sure to plan ahead.

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