What In the World Is That?

Hopefully, we still have a couple of more weeks until “bud break” begins.  That is the annual point in the life cycle of a grapevine where the buds swell with fluid pressure and new growth.  They are literally ready to burst forth becoming new fruiting canes to provide the fruit of the vine in about five months.  If the warm weather continues to allow sap to flow up the grapevines and swell the buds, and then we have a hard freeze, the 2017 crop will be greatly reduced.  Intermittent warm-freezing weather in the Midwest is one of the challenges of growing grapes that folks in California never even consider.
But what is that stump of wood with two spindly sticks emerging?  It is a viticultural experiment.  Conventional “wisdom” for grapevines tells us that grapes like well drained soils enabling the roots to dry.  The worst soil for grapes is soggy bottomland where the roots are never really dry.  A tour of Dr. Wilkinson’s ranch just down the road from the winery will show you just the opposite.
There you will find native species of grapes such as vitis riparia, vitis aestivalis or vitis rupestra.  These grow prolifically in wooded areas, and you can find many happy plants in the lowest, soggiest soils.  What gives?  The European grapevines we all love are varietals or “cultivars” of the same species of grape – vitis vinifera.  All the different grapes and wines we enjoy such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, etc. are the same species.  It is the same situation as all the different breeds of dogs but they are the same species.  Native species of grapes are both genetically and physiologically compatible with vitis vinifera (or “vinifera” for shot). 
While we have some genetic hybrids of native Oklahoma grapes crossed with European Cabernet Franc (one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon) and Merlot, what we are doing on the edge of the forest is grafting Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot canes onto the recently cut ends of native grapevines.  It will take three to five weeks for the grafts to set and become healthy.  From each of these successful double grafts, we might be able to produce a bottle or two of wine.  Nonetheless, these trials of our grafted hybrids will enable us to determine if this is even worthwhile.
Some native rootstocks will impart a foxy taste to the grapes, no matter what species is the “scion” or the top-grafted portion.  We won’t know until we try.  IF we can avoid the foxy taste, then we will have a ready supply of 50 to 90 year old rootstock on which we can grow some “old vine” Cab and Merlot grapes.  We are also grafting Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo onto Missouri Concord native vines.  One of these experiments is going to yield outstanding fruit, and that would be the best of Old World meets New World.

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