Planting benchgrafts

March 5, 2012




As you may recall, we are converting a portion of the Cabernet Sauvignon that we have planted in the China Bowl vineyard over to Grenache, which we will use in the Cuvee Alis. The majority of the vines will be converted via a process known as t-budding, where Grenache buds will be spliced into the Cabernet Sauvignon vines.

In some cases, however, the Cabernet Sauvignon vines are missing, and so there’s nothing to splice into. Missing vines, or ‘skips’, usually result from either gopher damage to the vines’ roots, or sometimes a large rock directly under the vine that disrupts the normal growth of its’ root system.

Skips are not uncommon in most vineyards. Each of the white cartons you see in the picture above represents a missing vine in China Bowl.

When a vine is missing, we replace it with something called a ‘benchgraft’. A benchgraft is two small specialized sections of grapevine that have been spliced together.

These are some of the benchgrafts we picked up this morning. The bottom section that the roots are growing out of is called the 'rootstock'. The upper section (past the bluish wax) is the scion, this is the part of the bechgraft that is Grenache. The rootstock has a special resistance to certain soil pests that would kill the scion if it were planted directly in the ground. There are a number of rootstocks to choose from, each of which have different properties that will help the scion thrive under different environments. In this case, we have chosen a rootstock called 101-14 that is low vigor, meaning that it will not let the Grenache portion of the vine get too big.

Planting the benchgrafts is simple, we dig a hole in the spot that a vine is missing, and we place the benchgraft in it. You have to be careful to bury only the rootstock portion of the benchgraft below the soil surface, so that the scion will not put out roots. The scion then gets covered up with dirt to protect it from the elements until dormancy is over. Once budbreak hits (probably sometime soon), the pile of dirt covering the scion will be shoveled away.

If the ground is dry, this can be back-breaking labor. Fortunately it has rained recently and the digging is going smoothly.

On some vineyard sites it’s a good idea to wait until later in the growing season to put in benchgrafts out of fear of a late frost, but our vineyards are situated high enough off the valley floor that frost is not a major threat. We are going ahead and putting our benchgrafts in early to make sure that the young vines have as much time as possible to grow before going dormant next winter.

To visit the Amapola Creek Winery main site, please click here.


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