Good Fruit Grower

September 1

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16 SEPTEMBER 2015 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Grapes L esser-known wine grape varieties can be more work than they're worth, considering the costs of extra management and risk in straying from the mainstream. But if you get it right— matching site with variety and winery— these cultivars can help growers better manage labor and help wineries stand out in a crowded fi eld. Washington State can produce outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot wines, and the state is the nation's number one producer of white Riesling. But the state, with diverse growing regions, can also grow scores of other lesser-known wine grape varieties well. These cultivars often tempt growers with high prices offered by wineries because of their limited quantity, but they come with risk. Three wine grape growers, who spoke during a meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, agreed that homework is needed before planting to ensure you are prepared for what can be labor-intensive varieties and have a winery willing to buy the fruit. Joe Hattrup, owner of Elephant Mountain and Sugar Loaf Mountain Vineyards, has worked with lesser-known varieties for about a dozen years. His two vineyards, at the west end of the Rattlesnake Hills appellation (a sub- appellation of Yakima Valley), are located at high elevations—from 1,150 to 1,460 feet. He grows 18 varieties commercially and has several others planted in small test plots. Most of his blocks are spaced six feet between vines and nine feet between rows and contoured and terraced for his steep slopes. Hattrup says the biggest consideration with lesser-known varieties is a site's length of season. Lesser-known variet- ies tend to be late maturing and heavy producers with big berries and clusters. Many, like Petit Verdot, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault, are 10 to 14 days behind Cabernet Sauvignon in a normal year. "Can you safely and consistently get high-quality fruit harvested?" he asked. "Roussanne is terribly sun sensitive and sunburns easily, so canopy management is important," Hattrup said. "Tempranillo requires early bird netting for me every year, and Grenache is extremely sensitive to winter temperatures and frost." Hattrup added that because most lesser-known varieties are heavy producers, irrigation must be managed differently than on Bordeaux varieties. He judiciously applies water early in the season to help control canopy. "Careful water management is easy to do but takes consistent effort, and you may not get it right the fi rst time." Growers should also factor in the need for labor-intensive crop load management—things like aggressive pruning, shoot thinning, leaf removal, and cluster thinning. Changing his row orientation from north-south to northeast-southwest and using two catch-wires for wind, one on each side, helped him balance shade in the canopy and be more reactive to wind. Nutrition needs of lesser-known varieties are also different than standard varieties. He reduces nitrogen applications in lesser-known varieties by 50 to 100 percent compared to his Bordeaux varieties. "Our Bordeaux target is around 35 pounds of nitrogen annually. With heavy producers of the lesser known varieties, we'll apply 18 pounds, or maybe none, for two or three years in a row." However, he makes an exception for Petit Verdot, which is a weak grower on his site, and gives it normal nitrogen applications and more frequent irrigations. Grower and winery owner Roger Gamache likens his grapes to children. "These varieties are like your kids," said Gamache, who is co-owner of Gamache Do your homework before taking risk with minor wine grape varieties. by Melissa Hansen MELISSA HANSEN/GOOD FRUIT GROWER Malbec grapes, known for their dark, inky color and robust tannins, need lots of sun and heat to ripen. The variety is one of the six grapes allowed in the blend of Bordeaux wine. "You've got to like doing the extra steps. You really need to like growing these varieties, and so do your employees." —Joe Hattrup PROS AND CONS of lesser-known grapes

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