Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Our Chardonnay vines bite the dust!

A few months ago, we made the hard decision to remove our 26 year old Chardonnay vines.

They were ungrafted plants which, for those that do not know, meant that they were vulnerable to phylloxera which is a sap-sucking bug related to aphids. This bug eventually drains so much goodness from the vines that the plant will die. Martinborough was free of this problem until about two years ago when poor quarantine practices at one of the local wineries saw it established here. Now with phylloxera one thing is certain - if it is in town it will spread to all the local vineyards eventually. So the upshot is that all ungrafted plants here are going to die.

What folk now do to avoid this risk is to graft the vines you want (i.e. Syrah, Reisling or whatever) onto phylloxera resistant Amercian rootstock

But phylloxera was not the main driver for the decision. We are in Pinot Noir territory and if we make a great bottle of Pinot, we can sell it for upwards of $40, while a chardonnay will command a much lower price. So it came down to simple economics. In this difficult financial era we have to optimise our efforts, and so we have decided to replace the chardonnay with Pinot Noir.

Now that is an easy decision to make in the winery office, but as you can see from the photo above, heart-breaking when you look at the consequences for these old vines. Specially when one then looks at where the other vines are up to at this time of year. All are now bursting with new life as the sap starts running and the buds break out; as the accompanying shot of our Pinot Noir vines shows.

As you can see we have cut the charonnay right back and will pull out the roots by tractor, leave the ground fallow for a year, then replant with grafted Pinot Noir. For those wondering why everyone did not just graft from day one, think about this: an ungrafted vine is free (just stick a cutting in the ground and the vine will grow), but a grafted vine comes from a nursery and costs between $4 and $6 each. So you can see why folk were tempted to go with ungrafted plants when they might need thousands of vines!


  1. It will be interesting to see what happens in the wine areas as over decades we learn what works best. Now it seems that each winery has a range of different wines - somtimes for marketing reasons. I think as we learn what works best there will be vineyards which have only one variety and eventually whole wine areas the same

  2. Gidday Kerry, thoughtful comment. I concur that we will see a lot more focus in coming years on what grape(s) best suit each region. Whatever we may think of the French appellation system, there is logic behind it.