The Last of the Phylloxerated Vines Go Up in Smoke
Ironically, back in 1985, when we planted AXR-1 rootstock in all our vineyards the phylloxera plague had already started attacking this particular rootstock. The rootstock which was developed years before at UC Davis was a cross between tow grapevines one of which had known susceptibility to phylloxera. Of course all of this is much better known in hindsight. At the time of our planting, Davis was in a state of denial and we blissfully planted on AXR-1 not knowing.
Slowly but inexorably over the subsequent years the deadly phylloxera insect (actually a root louse) devour the roots of our plants, multiplying in profusion in its characteristic feeding frenzy.
Years later, and wiser, we are now disposing of the last of these old vines and it seems appropriate, by burning them roots and all.
You don’t want to hear about all the trouble and expense we have gone to in incrementally replanting and keeping our winery production going at the same time. Suffice to say it is the greatest simgle expense in our winery history. On the plus side, however, for this second planting Dimitri Tchelistcheff had come to work for us and recommended some greatly improved clones that in his years of experience had made the best wines.
First we decided which varietal of grape, such as Cabernet Franc, to plant in a particular place, and then which clone of that variety to use. The clone determines just what kind of Cabernet Franc. After the rootstock has grown up to about a foot we cut it off and graft a bud of the selected clone onto the plant stub. In two or three years this bud develops in to a full size grapevine exhibiting its clonal characteristics.
For our replanting we typically used 101-14 type rootstock, on with a historic resistance to phylloxera (that louse is incredibly root specific in its tastes). Then for our chardonnay vines we used the Wente clone whose small berry size leads to a very flavorful wine. For our Cabernet Sauvignon we chose a variety of clones to have good blending possibilities.
The big bonfire attracted some of the winery kids who had on big weenie roasting party. But what the enjoyed most was the old vintage fire engine which we brought out for the occasion.
The fire engine came with the property when Leticia and I bought it. It is 1937 vintage, but sill can pump a jet of water 75 feet. It has a profound history starting with being the original fire engine for the Golden Gate Bridge. A very tragic part of the fire engine’s history occurred when the previous owner Peter Gasser, fearing that the big fire of ’82 was going to burn his many precious acres of oaks and native plants, jumped into this historic fire engine, drove to a part of the property near the fire line and commenced fighting the fire in a heavily wooded valley; suddenly the wind shifted and he was overcome by flames. A few years later his widow sold us the estate.
Anyway it was a great occasion last month to see the last remnants of the phylloxera scourge go up in smoke and to celebrate it with the spirit of a new generation of children.