How to Grow a Grapevine

If the Etruscans can do it, so can you.

That’s my personal mantra when it comes to tackling bizarre, yet possible, tasks like growing wine grapes in the Sierra Foothills or waking up before the sun. When it comes to grapes, there’s more to it than putting a seed in the ground, which I got to experience first hand on a visit to Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles last month.

Tablas Creek was founded in 1985, by the Beaucastel family, a well-known winemaking family from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape area of Southern France and importer Robert Haas.  Over the past twenty years, Tablas has propagated all 13 varieties allowed in these distinguished Rhône blends in California from the popular, fruity Grenache to the obscure Counoise grape. For many years the vineyard served as its own nursery, making it a great laboratory for discovering how grape growing gets done.

  1. Find rootstock and a grape variety to grow.


American rootstock is resistant to the vine-killing disease of Phylloxera, while European varieties (Like Cabernet Sauvignon or Riesling) have better flavors for winemaking. Normally, both pieces are simply cut from established vines. And yes, at first the vines just look like sticks.

  1. Slice them like puzzle pieces, and put them together.



Now you have a hybrid grape vine! Disease-resistant and ready to plant!

  1. Cover the joint with wax, and put the rootstock end in the ground.


Wax keeps the rootstock and vine from separating as they grow together. Eventually, the joint becomes a hard, bark-covered area on the trunk.

  1. Wait a few years, then harvest away!


It takes 3-5 years for vines to produce wine-worthy grapes.

  1. It helps to have a guard dog.


Naturally, I didn’t just cut vines apart at Tablas Creek, the winery responsible for bringing most of California’s Rhône wine grapes (Like Syrah) to the United States in the ’80s and ’90s. I tasted a boatload of wines too!

I loved the 2012 Espirit de Tablas, a seductive red blend with candied red raspberry fruit, full body, and firm tannins.  An absolutely fantastic American version of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The fresh, mineral-driven 2013 Vermentino was also a treat–tons of lime zest and green apple on the palate, and lots of riverbed-esque minerality made for a super-refreshing white.  (Another one to drink solo…or only with select, friends who appreciate a good, un-oaked white.)



  • December 9, 2014
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