Journal | April 17, 2019
Vine pruning is finished. Now the waiting game starts, although the vines are progressing quickly with higher than average temperatures. Young Chardonnay vines will begin bud break any day now. We’ll have a few weeks before the vines are at a stage were they need handwork attention, so now is a good time to graft our first vines for Linden’s Climate Change Trial vineyard.
I’ve wanted to do this for years, but the idea always made its way to the back burner. Then came a wake up call: vintage 2018. A warm, wet growing season that resulted in small yields of less than great quality. Climate is what you plan for and weather is what you get. Was 2018 a one-off or a sign of the future? Linden’s Hardscrabble Vineyard was planted in 1985 based on a climate that we may no longer be reliable. The varieties chosen in the 1980s have performed quite well over the decades, but maybe we should explore other options. If climate changes, then grape varieties may also have to change.
There are hundreds of different grape varieties commercially cultivated worldwide. We decided to plant small quantities of varieties that could potentially show promise if the climate changes the way scientists predict for the Mid-Atlantic: hotter and wetter. Two characteristics are critical for any candidate.
1. Late ripening. Grapes make their best wines when they ripen under cool conditions (mid-September through mid- October), not hot muggy August. Over the last thirty years ripening dates have become earlier and earlier.
2. Clusters that can handle rain. This means thick skins and loose clusters, both of which make the grapes more resistant to rot. Rot organisms thrive in warm, wet conditions.
After much research we came up with an initial list of varieties (we will be adding more every year). The logistical problem is that most of these varieties are not commercially available in the United States. However, University of California at Davis maintains the nation’s repository collection of grape varieties. We were able to obtain budwood cuttings from them. They are not a nursery, so they don’t sell ready to plant grapevines, but they will send buds. We then have to graft them onto rootstock (which we do grow), grow them in our nursery, and in the spring of 2020, plant them in Linden’s experimental vineyard block. That is if everything goes well. I’m more than a bit nervous about this, as the last time I grafted was 1984.
These are the varieties we just grafted. We’ll add more to the list each year. I’ll continue to update.