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The Interest in Wine from Ungrafted Vines: Risks and Rewards for Wine Producers

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15/07/2023 Interest in ungrafted vines grows as they offer unique terroir expression, but winegrowers face risks like vulnerability to the phylloxera infestation

In the world of winemaking, there has been a growing interest in the production of wines from ungrafted vines. Ungrafted vines, also known as own-rooted vines, are those that have not been grafted onto rootstock. While grafting has been a common practice for centuries to protect vines from pests and diseases, the resurgence of ungrafted vines has captivated the attention of wine enthusiasts and industry experts alike. This trend comes with its fair share of risks and rewards for winegrowers.

One of the primary reasons behind the interest in ungrafted vines is the belief that they can produce wines with a unique character and expression of terroir. Grafting, although essential for protecting vines from devastating pests like phylloxera, can potentially alter the vine's natural physiology and influence its ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. Ungrafted vines, on the other hand, are thought to have a more direct connection between the vine and its root system, leading to wines that showcase a pure expression of their specific growing site.

For winegrowers, planting ungrafted vines can be a risky endeavor. The main concern is the vulnerability of these vines to phylloxera, a tiny insect that feeds on vine roots and leaves, ultimately leading to the death of the plant. Grafted vines offer resistance to phylloxera by using rootstocks that are tolerant to the pest. By forgoing grafting, winegrowers expose their vineyards to the potential devastation caused by phylloxera infestation. This risk is particularly significant in regions where phylloxera is prevalent or in vineyards with a history of phylloxera outbreaks.

However, there are regions, often with sandy or gravelly soils, where phylloxera is less prevalent or absent, making them more suitable for the cultivation of ungrafted vines.  A good example is the Toro region in Spain. In these areas, winegrowers can explore the potential rewards of planting own-rooted vines. One of the most significant advantages is the preservation of old, heirloom vineyards that carry a unique genetic heritage. These vines often have a long history and are deeply rooted in the region's winemaking tradition, offering a connection to the past and a sense of authenticity that many wine enthusiasts seek.

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Another reward of cultivating ungrafted vines is the potential for increased complexity and depth in the resulting wines. Some argue that grafted vines, while resilient, may produce wines that lack a certain finesse or nuance compared to their ungrafted counterparts. The direct bond between the vine and its roots can contribute to a more intricate interplay of soil characteristics, climate influences, and vine physiology, resulting in wines that exhibit greater complexity and a heightened sense of place.

It is crucial to note that the decision to plant ungrafted vines should not be taken lightly. Winegrowers must carefully assess the risks and rewards specific to their vineyard site and region. Factors such as soil type, climate conditions, and the historical presence of phylloxera should be thoroughly evaluated before embarking on such an endeavor. Additionally, implementing strict vineyard management practices and maintaining a vigilant monitoring system for pests and diseases is essential to minimize the risk of vineyard devastation.

In all, the interest in wine from ungrafted vines reflects a desire for wines that truly express their unique terroir. Winegrowers who choose to plant ungrafted vines face both risks and rewards. While the vulnerability to phylloxera infestation remains a significant concern, the potential for producing wines with exceptional character and preserving the heritage of old vineyards provides a compelling incentive. Ultimately, the decision to cultivate ungrafted vines should be approached with careful consideration and a deep understanding of the specific conditions and challenges present in each vineyard.

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