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Inland Desert’s commitment will represent 100-plus acres of newly planted, virus-indexed grape rootstock and scion mother blocks.

Inland Desert Nursery, a Benton City, Washington, grapevine nursery, has made a serious commitment to the long-term health and sustainability of the Pacific Northwest grape industry. Owner Tom Judkins, Jr., has a goal of replanting all of the nursery’s registered mother blocks and using only foundation-level grape material from the Northwest Grape Foundation Service.

When it’s all said and done, their commitment will represent more than 100 acres of newly planted, virus-indexed rootstock and scion mother blocks, all material from the new H-20 block of the Grape Foundation Service, managed by Washington State University. Some of the registered blocks will be with grower cooperators—with certification maintained by Inland Desert—but the long-term goal is to replace all of their current registered material from WSU’s original foundation H-14 block and other noncertified material with new mother vines from the new H-20 block.

Judkins, who founded Inland Desert more than 40 years ago and is now joined by his two sons and a daughter, has already reaped benefits from the company’s commitment to Grape Foundation Service plant material.

The Grape Foundation is the only U.S. foundation plant service program that provides Rupestris stem pitting virus-free mother vines, indexing to ensure stock is RSP free. Additionally, new acquisitions for the H-20 block are propagated in such a way that assures freedom from the crown gall bacterium. Though the majority of sales at Inland Desert are from the Pacific Northwest, orders have come from nearly every state, and they just had their first Chinese order. Many customers are interested in the nursery’s material from crown gall free vines sourced through the Grape Foundation, particularly ­vineyardists from Texas and Colorado.

Inland Desert is one of the first nurseries in the nation with certified planting material of Marquette, a new red grape hybrid developed by the University of Minnesota. Marquette is resistant to grape powdery mildew, downy mildew, and black rot, and is very cold hardy. “You can locate Marquette from other nurseries in the Midwest, but the material isn’t certified,” said son Kevin Judkins, adding that Washington growers have been very interested in the new variety, especially those in areas like Leavenworth and Spokane. A grower in Horse Heaven Hills planted an acre of Marquette this past spring.

New additions

Several greenhouses have been built at Inland Desert in the last few years to allow use of mist propagation to ramp up budwood faster and to sell potted plants as well as bench grafts and rooted, dormant vines.

The mist propagation greenhouse is used mostly for unique plant material that’s in short supply—varieties like virus-free Lemberger (most Lemberger in the state has been highly infected with grapevine leafroll disease), Grenache clones, and Marquette.

“The greenhouses essentially allow us to grow year round and have a quick turnaround,” said Kevin, adding that the plants can be pushed later in the fall and start earlier in the spring than field-grown plants. They take green tip cuttings from mother vines and grow up the tips in small cell packs inside the greenhouse under ideal conditions of 80°F, intermittent mist, and high humidity. The cell packs are then transplanted into small pots for field planting.

Another greenhouse is dedicated to growing potted vines. In the past, callused cuttings were all planted in the field. Now, some of the cuttings are sent to the greenhouse for planting in small pots. When grown under ideal greenhouse conditions, the potted plants are ready for planting in a vineyard in about six weeks.
Sales of potted plants are a growing segment of Inland Desert’s sales. This year, Kevin said they expect to sell about 80,000 potted plants. In the last three years, they’ve sold an average each year of about 2 million finished vines. Total sales volume has been pretty consistent, but they’ve greatly increased the number of small orders, he said.

Other new buildings at the nursery include a cold room to keep dormant plant orders cold at 40°F until they are shipped and a holding building for local orders ­waiting to be picked up.

In addition to new buildings, Kevin has worked for three years with a computer programmer to develop an inventory program that allows them to track inventory and locate plant material. “We keep track of single vine source so that certified vines can be tracked to their mother vine in the field. The computer programs gives us a current availability list so we know what we have available and also where to find it.” In the past, the paperwork trail was always their biggest headache, he said.

A new business relationship with California’s Sunridge Nurseries gives Inland Desert customers access to the exclusive French clonal grapevine selections with the ENTAV-INRA trademark. Inland Desert also has a ­relationship with Novavine of California.

Though the “collection” block near Inland Desert Nursery’s headquarters was bare ground in May during the Good Fruit Grower interview, planting of a collection of 170 varieties, clones, and rootstocks has since started. Kevin explained the block will include 40 vines of each selection planted in the Northwest Grape Foundation’s H-20 block, with clones of the same varieties planted together to facilitate side-by-side comparisons.

“It’ll be a big learning block that’s managed commercially, with enough fruit from single clones to be made into wine for evaluation purposes,” he said.
Essentially, it will be a large-scale clonal research trial that Washington has been missing for many years.