“We need to get rid of the Americans.” “They haven’t yet removed the Americans.” “Damn Fucking Americans. (pardon my French)” No, these aren’t the answers to the Jeopardy category, “Unwanted in France”. However, that’s exactly what I thought during my first visit to the vineyards of Bordeaux. What they were referring to, as passionately as American southerners speak of Kudzu, were the undergrowths emanating from the american rootstocks. Phew. That would have been my shortest visit to France, ever.
By now, even the most casual wine drinker knows of, or is at least familiar with, the story of Phylloxera and how the vines of France (and other parts of the world) were saved by the grafting of american rootstocks. Case closed, right? Not so fast.
Just as I was determining the level of offense my North American brethren were causing the Bordelaise, I stumbled onto this articledebating whether rootstocks obscure or impede the truest transmission of terroir. The rolled eyes from the vineyard consultant at Crushpad Bordeaux when I posed the question to her told me all I needed to know in this debate. However, what she did say was that rootstock choice is very important and deserves careful consideration when planting a vineyard.
The main concern for viticulturists when choosing a suitable rootstock is its ability to adapt to its local environs and aid the scion (the fruit producing part of the plant) in producing the highest quality of fruit possible. Three of the most important qualities that I could infer were drought resistance, limestone tolerance and the vigor of vegetative growth. None of which, you’ll note, refer to ‘expressions of terroir’.
Only true wine geeks need continue…
In Bordeaux, one is likely to find several different varieties of rootstock depending on the conditions of the parcel and the age of the vineyard. The following table illustrates some of the rootstocks that I encountered and their associated characteristics.
Rootstock Vigor Limestone Tolerance Drought Resistance
SO4 Med-High 30% Average - Good
3309C Medium 10% Weak - Average
101-14 MGT Medium 10% Average
420A Low-Med 40% Average - Weak