On Sunday, May 19, 2013 I was invited to speak to the Alabama Winemakers’ and Grape growers’ Association (AWGA). This group can be found online here: http://awgga.org/
I was asked to speak on grafting grapevines as well as some of my research/extension activities. To see my presentation to the group, click here: Grafting and Budding Grapevines
As I expected, there were quite a few enthusiastic folks there and we had good discussion on grafting, wine varieties, and wines. I was able to take a quick visit to the Auburn University vineyard at the Chilton Research and Extension Center in Clanton, AL that is overseen by Dr. Elina Coneva. I was impressed with the vigor of the vines! These vines are from Dr. Andy Walker‘s program at UC-Davis. They are resistant to Pierce’s Disease via an introgressed gene from Vitis arizonica. They look promising so far, but there is still a long road to go for full evaluation. I was able to taste a wine from one of these selections. It was very good. It reminded me of a very good Chambourcin (this should be taken as a compliment). It will be interesting to see how the fruit develops as the vine gets more age.
There was some discussion on how everything being currently grown in Alabama (at least North Alabama) was made obsolete by these new selections. This is a bit extreme, as I believe there are still markets for other wine types (muscadines, etc). The quality of the Chambourcin and Norton I tasted at the meeting tells me that these grapes make a quality product — although I have not seen the vines in person to know if they can stick around for the long haul. Of course there were some lesser wines that I tasted but I must say that I was pleasantly surprised overall. At least I didn’t find any contamination or other defects that indicate poor sanitation — the faults were in the grapes themselves — either not suited for the area or perhaps not managed enough. I did taste a wine that I thought was “over-vinted”, meaning it tasted like all the fruit was removed, possibly by fining or filtering — it was, I don’t know, too processed. But that can happen for several reasons and the winemaker must make the call on that. I would have preferred more fruit, but luckily we all don’t have the same taste buds.
All in all it was a nice visit. Growing bunch grapes in the South is very challenging. We definitely have a lack of top notch quality wine varieties. I was encouraged by the work being done at Auburn to help fill that niche for areas in North Alabama and surrounding areas. Now if we can just find more for the Gulf South.