Editor’s Note: With the forecasts showing a shortage of winegrapes in the next few years, now looks like the best time to plant grapevines in an awfully long time. So we queried a few nurseries about how it’s going, eliciting responses from John Duarte, president of Duarte Nursery in Hughson, and Dustin Hooper, sales manager at Vintage Nurseries in Wasco.
How would you characterize the demand for wine grapevines? How would you compare the demand you’re seeing now with five years ago? To what factors do you attribute the current level of demand?
Duarte: Very strong. The winegrape industry is under planted to meet projected wine sales growth. Existing winegrape acreage is also aging on average as the industry has not replanted significantly in the last 10 years. Vines planted in the boom of the 1990s are turning 20 years old this decade â€” that is about the economic life of most vineyards.
Hooper: Winegrape varieties are in high demand right now and look to continue that way for the next few years. Five years ago we had steady growth year after year, but 2012 on has exceeded that steady growth by leaps and bounds. The demand can probably be attributed to short crush over the last few years, people waiting to see how the economy was going to do until now, and old vineyards needing to be replanted.
Is it the traditional leading varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon in reds and Chardonnay in whites, that are leading the way, or are other varieties selling better? What newly popular variety has been in the most demand at your nursery?
Duarte: Cabernet Sauvignon plantings are very strong. It looks like Cabernet will continue to be the king of red wines. Chardonnay is a bit different as Pinot Grigio, Muscato, and Sauvignon Blanc are all very popular. White wines are likely to have more variety in the future.
Hooper: Those varieties continue to be popular, but you are also seeing Muscat Alexandria, Colombard, Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc for whites; Barbera, Pinot Noir, Primitivo, Merlot, and Zinfandel for reds.
What percentage of growers know exactly what they want, and what percentage consult with you about what to plant? If they do ask questions regarding variety selection, what are the most common?
Duarte: Most all growers planting right now are planting for a specific winery contract. This means that they know what variety and vineyard design they are planting. Duarte Nursery field viticulturists are still consulted for input on clones, rootstocks, and spacing. Applications and best practices regarding our new Magnum and Ubervine products are offered also.
Hooper: Most large-scale growers are told by their wineries which variety/rootstock they should be planting (probably 75% in this market). The other smaller scale growers frequently ask about clones and rootstocks that will best work for their site. We generally look at their site and soil samples and help them make a decision.
What one piece of advice would you give a grower who is considering replanting?
Duarte: Get a contract that makes economic sense for the future. New vineyards are designed to produce higher outputs than older vineyards were. Current California farmland prices and global wine market realities demand that new vineyards are more intensively planted and farmed than in the past.
Hooper: Plan ahead and order your vines early. Most people do not realize they need to order their vines about 14 to 18 months in advance to get the exact combination they are looking for.
Preventing Red Blotch
As most growers know, thereâ€™s been a lot of talk over the past several months about the newly diagnosed disease, Red Blotch. We asked both Duarte and Hooper what they were doing at their nursery to ensure that all the vines they sell are free of the virus, whether growers are asking about Red Blotch, and if so, what they are telling them?
Hooper: We are testing all of our mother blocks, both scion and rootstock. As of now, we have not had any tests come back positive for Red Blotch from our certified mother blocks. We are mostly seeing it out in field selections coming from customersâ€™ fields. Growers in Northern California and the Central Coast are asking the most about Red Blotch as they are seeing it more in their vineyards than the people in the Central Valley. Weâ€™re not sure if the climate in those areas plays into it or not. We are telling them as much as we know and what we are doing in the nursery, but there is still a lot to be learned about this disease.
â€¢ Duarte Nursery has tested all source blocks for Red Blotch and has eliminated all sources with any grapevine Red Blotch-associated virus (GRBaV) positive finds from 2013 and future production.
â€¢ Duarte Nursery has contacted all customers of 2012 deliveries sourced from GRBaV positive blocks and offered free replacements.
â€¢ Duarte Nursery has 10 million GRBaV tested clean certified rootstocks and 20 million GRBaV scion buds tested clean available for 2013 grafting.
â€¢ Duarte Nursery welcomes further testing of its source blocks and plant materials from our customers.