How Does Grafting Wine Grapes Work?
Many wine grapes in the US are grafted on – meaning the root of the grape plant isn’t the exact same strain as the top of the plant. This is often a way of strengthening delicate grape types by giving it a hardier or more pest resistant root system.
Grafting wine grapes can also be used by winemakers to replace existing grapes with a new type. So, if a winery wanted to grow Chardonnay where they were growing Pinot Noir, they would only have to graft Chardonnay grapes onto the existing roots. This means a winery can begin producing the new grapes much more swiftly than if they had dug up their previous grapes and planted a whole new grape plant.
Why do Many Wineries Graft?
The majority of wine grapes you hear about are grafted onto rootstock due to an American pest. Back before we had officials to check whether certain plants carried disease or bugs that the ecosystem of other countries can’t handle, American vines were important to England and Europe.
Unfortunately, these vines came with a little pest that attack grapes. The wine grapes in these areas had no natural resistance to the pest – so wine production was almost halted in Europe for a time. After the pest was discovered, winemakers developed a work-around. They grafted their grapes to American rootstock, which has a resistance to the pests.
The practice of grafting in order to improve a grape varieties’ chance of survival continues to this day.
How to Graft
The process of grafting is pretty simple, but requires a lot of skill and expertise. Basically:
1. The root onto which the plant will be grafted is planted and allowed to establish itself.
2. Any trunks growing from the root are cut down to the ground at a spot which is approximately the same size as the trunk of the plant to be grafted.
3. A cut is made both in the trunk and the plant which is to be grafted on. The plant and trunk are notched together.
4. They are then tied together with a material to keep the graft in place.
5. Soil is used as an additional support and as a moist surface which will help the plant heal more swiftly.
In the end, you have the varietal you want to grow attached to a root which will give it the protection and nutrients it needs to produce fantastic wine. We can all raise a glass to that!