Michael Larner on choosing wine grape rootstock

Michael Larner, Larner Fête 2016

Last year after the fabulous Larner Fête we had a chance to sit down with Michael Larner and talk about wine grape rootstock.

Michael and his family did quite a bit of research before choosing what they would plant at Larner Vineyard.  Luckily Michael’s background is in Geology, so that had some inside expertise on soils.

Choosing which wine grape varieties to grow

The first decision of course was climate based, figuring out what they could realistically grow in this area.  This came down to Rhone or Italian varieties.  They already knew that Syrah did well, because Stolpman was already successfully growing it, so Rhone varieties were the way they decided to go.  After that it’s a matter of seeing what soils you have and how water is managed in those soils.

Choosing Rootstock

Rootstock is the footing for your vines, it is the foundation in your vineyard, and there is quite a bit to take into consideration when choosing a rootstock.

Own-rooted vs grafted rootstock

For the Larners, it was an easy decision to not go with own rooted varieties. Being a vineyard first, they grow grapes for many winemakers, all of whom stop by to visit the vineyard and check on their grapes.  Phylloxera is a tiny aphid that feeds on grapevine roots.  There is no cure.  Phylloxera hit Europe back in the late 19th century taking out most of the vineyards.  It was discovered that American rootstock was resistant to phylloxera and so grape vines all over Europe were transferred to American Rootstock.  This grafting of rootstock keeps vines safe.  Own-rooted vines are available, but you take the risk of your vines getting phylloxera.  With winemakers coming and going from other vineyards, this risk was unappealing to the Larners.

Choices in Wine Grape Rootstock

After determining that you are not going with own-rooted stock, you look at the soil.  There are differences in soil pH and water retention.  You find something that, in these soils, will not cause the vines to be overly vigorous (cause then they don’t want to produce grapes) and then also vigorous enough to keep the vines healthy.  They look at where they were planning on planting their blocks and looked at the soil pits.  Michael found 3 major soil types in the vineyard and chose 3 rootstocks based on that.  Of course there are slight variations in the soil within those areas, but that can be treated separately to compensate for the differences.

They chose Rootstocks 101-14, 5C and 110R.  I did a little research and found some information from UC Davis on the differences in these rootstocks. These rootstocks differ mostly in their drought tolerance but also somewhat in Wet soil tolerance, and tolerance of salinity and lime.

So the vineyard blocks are broken into 3 sections depending on the soil, which each have a different rootstock.  Then…you choose the clones that will be grafted to the rootstock.  With 4 different Syrah clones, they ended up with 11 blocks of Syrah that because of the differences in rootstock and clones are each farmed differently.  This makes farming a little harder, but in the end you want each block to perform to the best of it’s ability.  Even when the wine isn’t estate, your vineyard name is on their bottle and you want the wine to be the best it can be.

We had time to talk with Michael even further about the clones of Syrah he grows, so check back here for more on that!

You can taste some of Michael Larner’s exceptional wines at their Los Olivos Tasting Room at 2900 Grand Avenue.

 

For more on the wines of  Santa Barbara visit Santa Barbara Vintners.

They will be holding their Vintners Spring Weekend April 20-22, 2017, where you can attend the Grand Tasting and taste wines from all over this amazing region.

And you will find plenty of information here at Crushed Grape Chronicles and lots of videos on Santa Barbara, it’s wines and people. As well as information on previous Vintners Spring Weekends.

And stop back to visit us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

2 thoughts on “Michael Larner on choosing wine grape rootstock

  1. The world learned so much during the phylloxera years … not a single vineyard story is told without that cautionary tale. This is an interesting conversation, not something that is discussed much, the early years of planting… thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Jill! It’s always fascinating to talk with Michael. With his background in Geology he brings a different perspective to soils and I have heard him give amazing talks on the Santa Barbara transverse valleys and the soils that you find there.
      While it especially makes sense to avoid “own-rooted” stock on a Vineyard with different winemakers coming in, it’s seems always prudent unless you are an estate vineyard where you don’t let any outsiders in your blocks. You would probably need hazmat suits to truly keep your vines safe! Perhaps in many places the phylloxera years have been forgotten.
      More coming from him on his choice of clones as he planted his vineyard!

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