The Rare Grape Seedling
I was rinsing out some sample buckets today and noticed these grape seedlings, growing on the side of the cement where we usually process grape samples. They were seeds from field samples of years gone by, germinated and growing wild. One of the remarkable things about modern viticulture is that all of the grape vines that are growing in the field today were propagated using vegetative material, meaning that each one is genetically identical (or genetically very close) to their parent plant. This has been happening for many, many years, and the varietals we use have been selected for their various positive wine properties. The reason why we propagate vine material vegetatively is that seed represents a genetic recombination, and at this point we can’t predict the traits of that offspring and there is a high rate of failure. One would have to take thousands, if not tens of thousands, of seedlings, grow them up and track their traits to find new and favorable varietal crosses – certainly a daunting task. This means that change in the world of grape varietals is extremely slow, and mostly comes from selections with slightly different but interesting traits (i.e. clones). That being said, Randall Grahm, ever the innovator, has started a project focusing on planting new crossbreeds in his vineyard in San Juan Bautista.