As I have mentioned before, Piedmont Virginia Community College through their Workforce Services offers classes on Virginia Viticulture & Enology. For the laymen, it is wine growing and wine making. I had previously taken one class back in September and it was very good. This time I had the chance to take Vine Grafting & Propagation taught by legendary Virginia winemaker (modern founder) Gabriele Rausse.
For those who do not know, the reason why we have to graft vines is because of a bug called Phylloxera. When the europeans came and settled in North America they brought back sample of agriculture. One of those were grape vines. What they did not know is that the American grape vines has the bug Phylloxera on it and the grape vines from North America were resistant to it. The european vines, however, were not. This began a massive plague that would spread all across Europe.
Now because of all of this, we have to graft the European vine onto American rootstock. In fact, almost all of Europe now is on American rootstock.
When arriving in Charlottesville, Virginia, Gabriele Rausse told us stories and a brief overview of grafting. I will say it is for good reason that this is a hands on class because I was lost the first hour and was very nervous to what we would face. However, I was very excited to go to Monticello and get to have hands on experience with the vines that Rausse is growing to replicate the great Thomas Jefferson’s vines.
When we arrived Gabriele took us into a room where he had an interesting machine built into the table. It was small but the focal of the room (as you can see in the picture). The process is actually pretty simple but it is very time consuming. I think he may have spent one hour showing us and dividing up the task and we spent the rest of the day taking turns at each position.
At the beginning, you take all of the clippings of the european vines that you pruned in the winter and then stored in your fridge You clip them between each bud but it is very important to keep them going the same way. You also want to leave enough room at the bottom, as you will be grafting them to the American rootstock. When you are done you soak in a 0.5% Chinosol solution. This is to prevent a fungus that is common. While this is going on you want to make sure that the American rootstock has all of its buds removed. If not, you will have competing buds.
After that the person on the machine tries to match up all of the rootstock with the european buds and with manual use of the machine it makes an Omega Ω symbol puzzle piece that will bind the two plants together. We did learn that there are other ways of doing it with the V-cut and doing it by hand.
The newly grafted vine is then passed on two someone who will dip the bud and the graft into a special wax and then in room temperature water to harden. This wax is not just any wax but a special wax that is used in a lot of cheese production. The graft is then placed evenly into a crate and with each layer is a layer of peat moss. Don’t forget to flatten with a brick. This is to keep the moisture in and protect the vines.
This special crate, in the picture, will be closed very tightly as to push out all of the air. We then turned it on its side and Rausse recommended Prolite on the sides of the vines with the wax.
So this might sound easy and all. Just clip your european vines in the winter, store them in the fridge, order some American rootstock, graft them together and wham! you have a brand new vineyard. Wrong!
Gabriele says that this is not a very cost effective way and that the most success he has ever gotten from grafting is 70%. So I would say if you are thinking of starting your own vineyard just ordered pre-grafted vines.
Overall, the class was fun and informative. It really put in perspective for me what had to be done in the colonial days or we wouldn’t have had such great wines to drink today. Rausse was very informative and allowed us to be hands on. I would recommend these classes to anyone who is interested in wine in Virginia.