Anatomy of a Vine
June 8, 2007
In the ten years I’ve lived here in California—especially in Sonoma—I’ve learned quite a bit about vines. Or so I thought. Going over the notes from my tour of the vineyards with Keith and Erik, I found quite a few question marks in the margin. I couldn’t find a good one-stop resource online for wine and vine terms, so I’ve taken the liberty of pulling together all the words that stumped me, finding out what they meant, and explaining them here.
The foundation of a vine is its rootstock, literally a piece of nubby, bare vine that has a healthy root system actively nourished by the soil. It’s kind of like a blank canvas, a “vanilla shell,” if you will. Not that the choice of rootstock isn’t important, it is—it was American rootstock, in fact, that saved the French wine industry in the 1800s. A viticulturalist will choose a rootstock to suit particular soil and growing conditions.
Once the rootstock is chosen, the viticulturalist will choose which variety of fruiting vine to graft on to the rootstock (the grafted piece is called a scion).
Vine Varieties (Varietal, Variety)
This is the general classification of grape that a particular fruiting vine produces—for instance, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Merlot.
Clones, contrary to what the name implies, have nothing to do with genetic manipulation or dubious duplication of livestock. They are simply specific subsets (Clone 4, for instance) of a grape vine varietal (Chardonnay, for example) that each have their own unique characteristics.
The grapevine itself is the combination of the rootstock and the grafted vine. During winter, it’s all you see and it looks (plug your ears all you viticulturalists), well, dead. In reality, it’s putting all of its energy into its root system, regenerating its strength to put out new shoots.
The straight part of the vine (usually incorporating the rootstock) that comes out of the ground and grows vertically, until it either branches off horizontally (into two cordons, one on either side of the trunk) or into a knob (head), depending on how they’re trained and trellised.
When springtime comes, little buds form on the vine that send off shoots (like branches), which eventually become covered with leaves and grape clusters. Later in the season, when the shoots turn brown and brittle, they’re called “canes.” (Incidentally, when canes are pruned, they’re great for smoking meats on the grill around harvest time ;-)).
Shoots become canes when they turn brown and woody at the end of the season. Most are pruned, but some are trained to become permanent parts of the vine.
When a vine is trained on a trellis, two canes (normally) are attached to a wire running to either side of the trunk. These canes become a permanent extension of the trunk and form buds and shoots of their own the following year.
Grape clusters are exactly what they sound like, a bunch of grapes. In general, they look like the grapes you buy at the store, only each wine grape variety has a slightly different look. All start out green. Red wine grape varieties ripen to red, and white wine grape varieties stay green or take on a golden hue.
The shoots, leaves and fruit are collectively called a canopy.
The growing of grapes.
The person who is in charge of growing the grapes (in our case, Keith Horn).
If in the future, as you read through any of my musing from the vineyard, you every have any questions of your own, please let me know. One of the beauties of the blog is that we can just keep adding to this list!