Looking To Italy For New Winegrape Varieties

Professore Vittorino Novello of the University of Turin, President of the International Viticulture Group for Innovation, was impressed with how California winegrape growers are handling Italian varietals, but suggested they modify their pruning practices. (Photo credit: David Eddy)
Professore Vittorino Novello of the University of Turin, President of the International Viticulture Group for Innovation, was impressed with how California winegrape growers are handling Italian varietals, but suggested they modify their pruning practices. (Photo credit: David Eddy)

Growers in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada gathered recently to hear what Professor Novello had to say about their region.

That would be Professore Vittorino Novello of the University of Turin, who was invited by University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Lynn Wunderlich to tour foothill vineyards and share his thoughts.

Growers in the region are finding success producing Italian grape varieties, owing in part to the ideal microclimate and soils the foothills provide.

Novello, who is currently President of the International Viticulture Group for Innovation, discussed production techniques for varieties such as ‘Barbera,’ ‘Nebbiolo,’ ‘Sangiovese,’ and ‘Vermentino’ while touring foothill vineyards. He concluded his visit with a lecture on what lesser-known Italian varieties might work out well for area growers. (See “New Cultivars For California” on the following two pages.)

The visit was sponsored by the El Dorado Wine Grape Growers Association, the Amador Winegrowers Association, the El Dorado Winery Association, and the Amador Vintners.

Novello said he was impressed overall with the growers’ handling of the Italian cultivars, considering it is — in winegrowing years — a relatively new area.

“Growers here know very well how to grow these varieties,” he said. “The only concern I have is the pruning type. Spur pruning is not good for some of these varieties — they should be cane-pruned.”

In Italy, noted Wunderlich, growers routinely cane-prune these varieties because they are so vigorous.

Perhaps the most vigorous of all Italian white varieties is ‘Erbaluce’ — a grape often used to produce sparkling wines — which also happens to be Novello’s favorite.

“It has big vigor,” he said. “That’s why for me it is special.”

Of course, that “big vigor” will certainly test a viticulturist, Novello said.

“I took one student there (to the vineyard) and said ‘If you can prune ‘Erbaluce,’ you can prune anything.’”

Before getting into what lesser-known cultivars might work well in California, Novello had one other piece of advice for growers of Italian varieties: Don’t be so aggressive with leaf-pulling to get sunlight into the canopy.

“Focus on equilibrium — leaves produce grapes. This environment is very hot,” he added in his classic Italian accent: “Don’t expose too much the clusters, especially the white.”

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