Northwest grape growers thinking about planting vines in the near future are advised to plan well ahead. Strong demand for grapevines that’s coming from California is impacting grape nurseries around the country, including Washington State.

Kevin Judkins of Inland Desert Nursery in Benton City, Washington, gave a tour of his family’s certified grape nursery to grape growers and winemakers during a summer field day sponsored by the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. During the tour, which focused on the importance of clean, virus-free plants, members learned what goes into state grape quarantine and certification programs and how commercial nurseries handle certified plant material.

“The demand for grapevines right now is insane,” said Judkins, who joined his father’s nursery business several years ago. “California is taking all the budwood that they can find. We’re even getting calls from California nurseries for self-rooted plants, which they don’t typically plant, because they are so desperate to source plant material.”

Kevin’s father, Tom Judkins, founded Inland Desert in 1960. Tom planted some of the first registered vinifera blocks in the state for propagation and sold certified vines.

Inland Desert has grown significantly in the last few years, Kevin said, handling upwards of three million self-rooted vines annually and sending them to nearly every state and Canada. “Our goal as a nursery is to be full service and compete with the biggest and best in California,” he said, adding that being able to sell certified vines that are also certified free of crown gall disease is an advantage when dealing with growers from other U.S. regions.

“The foundation block at Prosser where we source our registered mother block vines is recognized as the cleanest program in the world, and the treatment to keep crown gall out of the vines has gained attention everywhere,” Kevin said.

The Benton City nursery recently expanded its nursery to more than 100 acres of registered rootstock and scion propagative blocks to increase the supply of certified material. Greenhouse facilities allow Inland Desert to use mist green tip propagation to produce potted vines. They can also produce bench-grafted vines.

Certification process

Certified plant material is one generation from registered nursery blocks that are regulated and annually inspected by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Vines grown in registered blocks come directly from cuttings of the foundation block maintained by the Clean Plant Center-Northwest Grapes and housed at Washington State University’s Prosser research station. Each vine in the registered block can be tracked to a single vine in the foundation block.

Certified vines are the best option for growers who are concerned about long-term sustainability, profitability, and want clean, virus-free and true-to-type vines, Kevin said. “They come directly from the registered block and are regulated by state officials. If it is a step beyond that, you can’t call the material certified.”

Because there are limitations on the amount of certified plant material available during planting booms, certified plants are the first to sell out. Kevin said that if growers have to resort to noncertified material, the key is to get it tested.

Plan ahead

Kevin warned that growers who don’t plan ahead will find plant material in short supply for the next few years and will likely have to make sacrifices, like accepting noncertified material or taking a different clone than they wanted.

California wine industry officials are projecting tight grape supplies in the next three years, and some say the wine grape supply is on the cusp of a shortage. New plantings in California have been on the rise the last three years, and ­planting hasn’t let up yet.

For a variety of reasons, including a growing number of wine drinkers and increased wine sales, wine grape plantings in California haven’t kept up with demand.

Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers, California’s largest wine grape marketing cooperative, projected earlier this year that the state’s shortfall could reach 600,000 tons by 2014.