Ricardo Mata works with grafted grapevines at Valley View Winery outside Jacksonville. - Julia Moore

Eye to future returns vineyard to roots

RUCH — There was a bit of mental foot dragging, but in the end Mark Wisnovsky did what he had to do.

The future of Valley View Winery rests on what the vines will produce in years to come, not on memories.

As hard as it was for Wisnovsky to revamp the final acre of the original cabernet sauvignon plantings, it was time. This week, the last four rows of the original 12 acres he helped his father plant in 1972 were hacked down to 2-foot stumps, and new cab plants acquired from Roxy Ann Winery were grafted onto the grand old stock.

Wisnovsky has been flirting with the idea for 15 years, but the memories of his late father, Frank, who started Valley View more than 40 years ago, made it a tough go. "We've got a picture of Dad and Mike holding the vines in the winery," he said. "It was original planting, so it was quite historic. The spacing was more traditional and wider; when they are ripped out, the space between rows is narrower."

Over the years, Valley View's planting acreage has nearly tripled to 35 acres.

"As this variety gets to 40 years, the top gets gnarly and doesn't produce as much fruit," Wisnovsky said. "I can't say they are absolutely the oldest in the Rogue Valley, but there were very few others planted around 1972."

The tops of the T-shaped original vines have been trimmed to the trunk. The girth is 6-8 inches, necessitating a chainsaw to whack the plant down to size. The cabernet clone scion is slipped over the top, snuggling with the cambium layer beneath the bark. The plant is wrapped with grafting tape and the wound is painted with grafting wax — a sticky, black substance.

While the vines will take the year off to renew their strength, Wisnovsky and his staff will be hard at work to make sure as many of the grafts take hold as possible.

"It's springtime, and there are tons of fluid and water pumping into the plant," Wisnovsky said. "We have to go out there pretty much every day, cut the base of the vine, and let the juice pour out. It would flood the plant otherwise and push the grafts right out."

Even so, some grafts won't take hold.

A lot depends on the health of the vines, Wisnovsky said. The 10- to 20-year-old plants are deemed to have the right-sized trunk. If they are much smaller or substantially larger, success decreases. Generally, new vines survive 90 percent of the time and the success rate for grafts is 70 to 80 percent. "If we are lucky, we can get over 90 percent success," Wisnovsky said. "We will lose some plants and some will put out suckers. If we can bring up a sucker, we can start a new plant. If a plant ends up dying, we'll have to put a new one in the space. We already have some new cab sauv growing in our nursery."

Valley View's vines produced 150 tons of grapes last year — well beyond the typical 100- to 120-ton average. With a new vineyard, planted in 2011, beginning production during the next two or three years, Wisnovsky anticipates annual production to average around 150 tons.

Of the seven varieties growing a short distance from the Applegate River, cabernet sauvignon accounts for 15 percent of the production, although that figure will temporarily decline because of the grafting.

"Yield from these old vines is pretty low," Wisnovsky said. "This gives them a year off. We get 2 to 3 tons per acre when we should be getting 3 to 4 tons.

"We're hoping by refreshing the plant it will have a little bit larger and more consistent yield. Since 1976, they've done nothing but produce every single year. We can water them and give them a year-long vacation, and then let them grow like mad, which they want to do."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at Edge.

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