More Riesling Please

A riesling bud grafted into the trunk of a pinot gris vine and just starting to grow. The blue twine is in place ready to train up the new shoot.

A riesling bud grafted into the trunk of a pinot gris vine and just starting to grow. The blue twine is in place ready to train up the new shoot.

Each Spring in the vineyard, we take another small step towards the ideal combination of varieties in our vineyard. What that ideal is exactly, is of course a moving target, but over the years we've seen the planting of more tempranillo and the introduction of new varieties such as touriga nacional and mondeuse. Our overall vineyard area hasn't been increasing, rather this is a re-balancing of the composition of our existing vineyard. Some varieties have been tried and failed (merlot) and some varieties we simply originally planted too much (pinot noir).

Sometimes these changes of variety involve removing the original vines and planting new ones from scratch, but often we do it a quicker way, grafting or 'top working' one variety to another. 'More' and 'Riesling' are two words that are often found together, so this year we're grafting a patch of pinot gris to riesling.

Pinot gris is an important variety for us, and that's not changing, but we have enough of it planted to usually have some grapes left over for sale to other wineries. Riesling on the other hand is one that really excites and frustrates us: exciting because its one of the best wines we make, and frustrating because there's never enough. The 2016 Riesling is likely to sell out in January or February, before the next one is even picked, let alone bottled or released.

The top of the pinot gris vine has been chopped off, and the riesling bud starts to elongate into a new shoot, with a whole mature root system driving it.

The top of the pinot gris vine has been chopped off, and the riesling bud starts to elongate into a new shoot, with a whole mature root system driving it.

So how do you graft one variety to another? In the Winter, Leo took cuttings from our riesling vines and stored them in the fridge. Then in the Spring, our grafting contractor (grafting is an expert job) came and slipped a dormant riesling bud into the trunk of each pinot gris vine. The grafted bud forms a callus, knitting the tissues of the two varieties together, so that the sap from the pinot gris roots can flow to the riesling growing tip. After allowing a couple of weeks for this to take place, we 'chop the heads off' the pinot gris, leaving only a section of bare trunk with that one riesling bud to grow.

This is the moment of truth: either the riesling bud takes off and rapidly makes a new shoot that can be trained onto the growing wire for next season's fruit, or it doesn't 'take' and the vine descends into a mess of pinot gris suckers, desperately trying to keep the vine alive even though it is unwanted. When done well, there are few of these misses to be re-grafted the following year, but its a demanding job, requiring constant attention to maximise success and maximise the growth and re-establishment of the vine as a riesling vine.

So while the 2017 Riesling from the Pines block is likely to be just as limited in supply as the 2016, in 2018 there should be some Riesling from the North block, and the chance to compare the two patches, one from established vines (planted 2000) and one grafted onto established vines (planted 1999).