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Roots and Rootstock

Posted by CM Support
Jan 22, 2014 | Keywords: Pinot Noir  vineyards  viticulture  

Roots are obviously important to growing grapes – for two reasons. The first is that the roots in the ground may differ genetically from the above-ground vine that bears the grapes. This is because of a deadly pest, Phylloxera, that can wipe out a whole region’s vineyards. It decimated the French wine industry in the 1860s, which only recovered when their vineyards were re-planted with vines that had roots from a native Texan plant that is naturally resistant to Phylloxera. When grafted to this resistant rootstock, cuttings from classic European vines brought back the French wine industry. The favor was returned to the US in the 1980s, when Sonoma and Napa were hit by the pest, and the resistant rootstock was re-imported from France to restore California’s wine-making traditions.

In addition to ensuring resistance to pests, the viticulturalist must consider how the roots grow, and how different varieties of rootstock react to differing soil conditions. This is a science in itself, and that means it gets meticulous attention at Clos de La Tech! We even use the highly specialized services of two PhD-level “dirt guys” to help us match our vines to our soils.

The three Clos de la Tech vineyards have different soil conditions and within each vineyard there are variations in soil, incline and drainage, so we choose our rootstocks and planting approaches accordingly. The Pinot Noir grapevine clones on resistant rootstocks that we have selected are planted quite close together – just one meter apart. Our planting and labor-intensive vine management techniques produce a low per-acre yield of grapes that compensates for their scarcity by bursting with the intense, complex flavors that make a great Pinot Noir wine.

An extremely expensive close-up look at our roots was provided by an accidental collapse of a section of the cave roof during excavation of the winery cave system. A 30-foot hole opened to the surface, exposing the excellent root structures of the vineyard above.