Yesterday in Napa Valley, I got the chance to see something that I didn’t necessarily think I ever would. A rather high end winery (which I won’t name, because I don’t think they are sharing this publicly at least as of yet) was grafting grape vines from Merlot to Aglianico. In total, they were grafting over just an acre or so, not that much fruit or vines in total. But, it was an interesting process to experience, see and document on a few levels. The first thing that absolutely struck me was that this, is exactly how Napa feels about Merlot these days:
The process of grafting grape vines is a multi step process, handled by a skilled team. Although my Spanish isn’t perfect, it’s good enough to get my point across (it’s a hell of a lot better if I need to order food, find a hotel or generally exist) and the use of latino labor in the valley is something I want to go into greater detail at some point. Let’s say that these guys seemed happy, said they were full time employees of a vineyard management company and generally, seemed cool with their work (that’s not always true on any of those points when it comes to farm labor, so it was something that struck me).
The first part of the process, which I was excited to see, but happened the evening before, involves a chainsaw and cutting the top off the vine. While that seems extreme, it’s normal in the wine trade. Almost no grape vines in the world today are planted on their own rootstock. While consumers like drinking international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, those vines didn’t evolve with pests that evolved in the new world. Phylloxera has a long history of destroying vineyards throughout the world once it started getting passed from new world to old and back again.
So here’s the close up of a vine root, once it’s only the root.
What happens next?
The process is relatively simple. You cut into the vine roots and place the cutting of what you want to grow. You’d do the same thing for apples or really any other fruit. We just don’t normally think of it in those terms, but grapes are just another fruit that sells for a higher price per pound than what you get at the grocery store.
So what’s he doing in the video? First, you’ll see a couple of cuts placed into the bark of the vine root. I have exactly zero clue why thats done.
As I pan up, you’ll see him cutting what looks like a small twig, into an even smaller twig. That’s the Aglianico that’s going to be placed. Then you can watch as the vineyard worker leans down, cuts away more of the bark into the middle of the vine and places his small twig into the crease that he’s just created.
Lastly, you’ll see him shake the root a bit. He’s doing a final check to make sure that the crease he has made to hold the new cutting, will in fact hold it.
As you might expect, there’s one final thing to be done:
What’s happening here? He’s making sure the new graft is going to stay in place, but the white tie serves a second purpose as well. It keeps the weather a bit warmer on the cut site while also helps the vine heal, with the graft attached.
Is grafting grape vines a complicated process? Not entirely, but it’s a lot more back breaking work than many want to put in. It’s also not that exact, so if someone ever told me that not every graft took, I’d completely understand.