- Author: Debra Sommerfield, Lake County Winegrape Commission
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
UC Cooperative Extension, Beckstoffer Vineyards and Duarte Nursery are launching the wine industry's most ambitious cabernet sauvignon rootstock and clone trial in the Red Hills of Lake County to give the varietal greater resilience to climate change.
Cabernet sauvignon is California's second top-selling varietal by volume, just behind chardonnay.
“We have been growing cabernet sauvignon since the 1970s, and we are very proud to be part of this trial, which will help improve cabernet sauvignon growing for years to come,” said Andy Beckstoffer, owner and CEO of Beckstoffer Vineyards, which is providing the land and labor for the project.
The industry-driven trial – “Climate-smart Solutions for Cabernet Sauvignon Production” – includes 3,600 vines with 10 cabernet sauvignon clones on 10 rootstocks.
“This trial will give us data that will help inform and improve growing practices for cabernet sauvignon across the state for the next two decades,” said the trial's lead researcher, S. Kaan Kurtural, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture specialist at UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology and Oakville Experiment Station.
While the experimental vineyard is in Lake County at a property known as Amber Knolls, the data will be analyzed in Oakville.
The trial officially launched Aug. 15 in Kelseyville with a celebratory vine planting as Andy Beckstoffer and son David Beckstoffer planted the vine that also marked a milestone – the 1.5 millionth vine for Beckstoffer Vineyards Red Hills. Researchers, industry representatives and journalists gathered to celebrate what is affectionately known as “the mother of all cabernet trials.”
“Everything is wonderful in Lake County – for growing cabernet sauvignon and for doing research,” Andy Beckstoffer said, noting the Lake County region's ongoing support for farming.
Pedro Rubio, Beckstoffer Vineyards Red Hills general manager, said, “Lake County will definitely benefit, but the results from this trial will be very helpful for the whole industry.”
Designed to address resiliency in a changing climate, the trial will examine which combinations give the best results with a focus on drought tolerance and water-use efficiency as well as crop yield and grape quality.
“The idea behind the trial is to gain further insights into the interactive effects of rootstock selections crossed with cabernet clones and the impact of that on water relations and overall sustainability,” said Clint Nelson, ranch manager for Beckstoffer Vineyards Red Hills.
“The trial will give us an understanding of the synergistic relationship of clone and rootstock and what combination drives the best quality and production,” he said.
According to Nelson, the trial will look at canopy architecture, yield components, water relations, traditional fruit chemistries, secondary metabolites such as aroma, mouthfeel and color, as well as overall vine performance.
Duarte Nursery is providing all of the planting material for the trial.
“The diversity of rootstocks and clones chosen for this project includes some of the most modern cabernet sauvignon clones designed for high quality and for production,” said John Duarte, nursery president.
Duarte said the trial is employing a lot of cutting-edge technology and using some of the cleanest plant materials available to prevent grapevine viruses.
“Planting a vineyard with pristine nursery stock initially really extends the life of that vineyard,” Duarte said.
Viticulture has become more data-driven, and this trial will measure a staggering amount of data generated by the 100 or so rootstock-clone combinations over the approximately eight to 10 years of the trial's duration.
“Nothing of this scope has been attempted,” said UC Cooperative Extension specialist Kurtural, who acknowledged logistics as the biggest challenge with planning, data collection and timely analysis being at the forefront of his mind. “It keeps me up at night.”
Planning for the length of the project also is a concern. The vineyard will be planted this year and the first crop will be harvested in 2021. It will take at least six years to begin to see consistent results.
Kurtural said the project will provide research opportunities in academic and applied science for at least two students to complete work toward a doctoral degree in horticulture and agronomy.
Glenn McGourty, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor for Lake and Mendocino counties, is a research collaborator on the project.
“Lake County obviously has an important role to play in fine wine in the North Coast, particularly for cabernet sauvignon,” McGourty said. “And this trial really marks the importance of this location in terms of the commitment and the collaboration that we see here among both public and private sectors.”
About Beckstoffer Vineyards: Named “Napa's most powerful grape grower” by both the Wall Street Journal and Wine Spectator, Beckstoffer Vineyards was founded in 1970. Beckstoffer Vineyards is firmly rooted in the soil of Northern California's wine country, with Andy Beckstoffer playing an integral role in the evolution of the wine grape industry since 1970. Joined at the family-owned business by his son David in 1997, they share a common mission – to produce the highest quality grapes in Northern California that form the foundation for exceptional wines – and a combined passion for the land and viticulture expertise. Beckstoffer Vineyards first acquired land in the Red Hills in 1997, which after subsequent acquisitions, today totals nearly 2,000 planted acres across three blocks: Amber Knolls Vineyard, Crimson Ridge Vineyard, and Amber Mountain Vineyard.
About Duarte Nursery: Duarte Nursery, Inc. (DNI) is a family-owned and operated nursery and the largest permanent crops nursery in the United States.