Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When all the focus is on the current vintage and chaperoning the vines through the growing season to harvest, it’s easy to forget that plans need to be made now that will yield dividends not in 4 months, but 4 years.

There has been much re-planting of vineyards in this region over the past few years. Partly because of EU grant aid (in France they pay the vignerons to take out the vineyards!) and partly as some producers want to expand the varieties they are farming. Historically, and actually more so politically, this is a white wine region. Red grapes are in the minority, but many new plantings now favour Pinot Noir (Modri Pinot), Cabernet, Merlot or Modra Frankinja (Blaufrankisch). I’m not so sure about the potential for Pinot Noir, but as you may have already noticed, I have been wowed by Modra Frankinja.

Above is a new vine Modra Frankinja vine planted this spring – one of many! They are all sourced from a local nursery and this particular example is one year old – and costs about €1. You can also get two year old vines, for, wait for it, €2!

Since Phylloxera ravaged Europe’s vineyards in the late 1800’s, all new plantings of vines have been grafted onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstock. Every single vine planted anywhere in Europe. The grafting process is specialised and carefully controlled. In the picture you can see the wax covering the place where the vine and rootstock have been grafted.

Interestingly, in the past, winemakers would have planted the new vines deeper into the ground. The problem with this method was that the graft was below soil and any shoots that the vine produced above the graft could then turn downwards and develop roots – that would not be phylloxera-resistant. So the current method is to keep everything above the graft well up from the soil.

However, many winemakers will also “train” a shoot of one vine back down into the ground, along and then up again where an old vine might have died or become diseased. This will then develop roots itself and become a new vine. Only problem is that it’s technically not phylloxera-resistant. The percentage is small, but it’s growing and it’s difficult to know exactly how much of a particular vineyard is still on the American rootstock.

And so, our little friend above will begin contributing to the pleasure of wine drinkers in about 24 months time. True, the fruit will be young and simple, but it won’t be wasted!

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