Washington grape nursery representatives report brisk business, though the frantic planting of vineyards has slowed. Interest in wine grape clones is high, but material of some clones is limited.
Growers are still planting, but it is at a more moderate pace than a few years ago, said Marcus Freepons of Northwest Vinifera, a greenhouse nursery in Grandview, Washington. Much of his business is for replacement planting.
Freepons, who also grows Gala apples and Rainier cherries, sees the wine grape industry becoming more like tree fruit, with a wide range of varieties. “The industry is going to have to offer a lot of varietals because the winemakers want to try a lot of new stuff.”
He specializes in more obscure varieties, with all of his business done on a custom-order basis. Freepons doesn’t own any wine grapes or mother blocks, sourcing all his wood from wholesale nurseries or growers.
But while there are lots of clones for growers to try and many selections now in the foundation block managed by Washington State University, there is still not enough material available, he said.
Pinot Gris and Riesling are still hot varieties, according to Tom Judkins of Inland Desert Nursery, Benton City, Washington. Demand is strong for Cabernet Sauvignon clones 10 and 21, though they are limited in supply; clone 8 is more abundant.
Nursery representatives must try to stay ahead of the curve and identify varietal and volume trends. It’s not an easy task.
“You have to have a wide number of varietals available and a rather extensive portfolio with as many clones as possible,” Judkins said. “There’s always a certain amount needed for replant from winter damage, gophers, etc. But growers putting in a sizeable number of vines should contact nurseries as early as a year in advance to be sure enough material is available.”
He said the key is to visit and communicate with the nursery when the cutting material is available, typically in the fall. “If you wait until spring comes, the nursery can’t get material then.”
Vernon Brown, owner of Fairacre Farms and Nursery, Inc., Prosser, Washington, said that it’s too expensive to carry inventory without knowing if it will be sold and planted. He no longer plants nursery stock in the field without an order.
It’s a slow process to get certified material from a minor varietal or clone cleared through the Northwest Grape Foundation Service and produced in sufficient quantity for commercial plantings. In the past, he planted a mother block for certified vines in advance, to try to stay ahead of demand.
“Sometimes it worked, sometimes I had to pull it out later if it didn’t catch on,” he said.
Brown has been in the grape nursery business for 25 years, but his nursery has been around even longer as it was originally planted in the late 1960s and called the White and Lewis Nursery. At one time, the nursery was a primary supplier of grape stock for the Washington industry.
In the last five years, Brown, nearing retirement, has greatly scaled down the volume of his business. “The only reason I’m still doing this is because of my employees, many who worked for the original owner. I’d be real glad to help someone get started in the grape nursery business. Between the employees and me, we have a lot of knowledge.”