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January 28, 2015



Very interesting article. But also remember that these vines are planted on grafted (phylloxera-resistant) rootstock and different rootstock have different growth patterns quite naturally. For example rootstock derived from Vitis riparia are naturally shallow-rooted and in the wild this species flourishes in fertile soil and in areas with high water tables, river banks etc. Rootstocks derived from Vitis rupestris, on the other hand, normally root very deeply and in the wild they flourish in areas where soil is low in nutrients. These vitis species have evolved to suit their environment and form their roots accordingly. They also differ in their affect on vine vigour, resistance to disease and nutrient take-up in a complicated interaction with the soil. Vine growers use them as rootstock and (should) make their choice of rootstock based on a study of the above. Sometimes a vine grower will use different types of rootstock in the same vineyard, just as (say) a grower of Pinot Noir will grow several different strains in the same vineyard as an 'insurance policy' against disease, or to spread out the harvest dates, or to gain complexity in the wine. So it is possible to see both types of rootstock perhaps in the same vineyard for various reasons.

Mark Thomasseau

Excellent post! The race to the bottom - greed! Will backfire for them! But in the process, national treasures will be lost!
Here in Washington State we are just beginning to reap the benefits of vineyards with age, cared for naturally, having some character, having something to say! I hope we continue to listen to your warnings and protect our own treasures!


Very good point Mike, I left the issue of the different types of rootstocks on the side, and they count so much in the way the vine will behave. Growers who are trying to improve their vineyard have often told me that they favored rootstocks that were less productive, they has less volume of grapes but of better quality.

Greed is indeed the engine in many of these bad choices, Mark, and that's sad that the goverments and European institutions encourage that, especially that at the end, the price of these mass-produced wines of generic varietals they're encouraging will drop even further...

Dean Alexander

Hi, I've been doing a little research (I mean a little) on vine roots, and I think I have at least one or two alternate explanations for your horizontal verse vertical root growth. First, cultivated clonal selections have a more highly divided rootsystem than no grafted vines which have a tap root that goes down vertically like the vine on the right - but are prone to phylloxera. The clonal selections have a "main framework roots" that goes down no more than 13 or so inches and can grow very thick. From these, the permanent root system grows, quite horizontally with it's spreaders, typically 4-6 feet from the trunk, but have been known to grow 30 feet away if necessary, but also sends down 'sinkers'. From the permanent roots grow the absorbing roots, which continually are grown and die off (like hairs on your head) gaining the nutrients the vine needs for growth. These all exist in the first 80 cm (around 2.5 feet).


Thank you very much for this contribution, this sheds light of another explanation for these roots shaping, I had also thought in a corner of my mind that indeed rootstock could play a role, as different rootstocks may behave differently in their rooting structure. If given the opportunity I'll ask the grower if he knows about the clone/rootstock type of these two vines.


I won't comment on the politics of this article, but the comments on root structure were interesting. I think there is a lot of presumption being made, and the two vines hung on the wall prove nothing. However, the suggestion that fertilizer and irrigation influence root architecture, and that this can have qualitative impacts on the fruit produced, have some validity. I did a lot of field research on drip irrigation of many different crops before I retired a few years ago. It became very obvious that roots move toward resources. But it also became obvious that roots will have innate behaviours, based on their genetic background, which with grape rootstocks can be very complicated. And it needs to be acknowledged here that very few European grapes are grown on their own roots. Phylloxera makes that untenable, and has for over 100 years. So the result of management practices, such as fertilization and irrigation, is that they can influence root system development, but cannot completely dictate root system architecture. Of course, there is also the role of soil profile and character. I'm familiar with wild vines (Vitis aestivalis, var. bicolor) growing on bluff tops and sides that must have roots stretching deep into bedrock like conditions. I'm familiar with wild vines (Vitis riparia) that are growing on river banks that must cope with high water tables. Grapes have tremendous capacity to adapt in the wild. Commercial viticulture does many things that exert influence over the vines, some purposefully, some through neglect. Its hard to see the roots of vines until you pull them out. Good growers have good imaginations and abilities to understand what their vines are saying to them. Commercial viticulture is not for the weak-hearted or weak-minded. Growers who love their vines have the best chance of success.

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