Hybrid Grape Varieties
What exactly is a hybrid grape variety? When the genetic material of one species of grape is crossed with the genetic material of another species, the result is a hybrid variety that will have some combination of characteristics of both parent varieties. Many of today’s well known grape varieties are the offspring of two varieties of the same species. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon is a crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, both of which belong to the Vitis genus and the vinifera species. Most modern hybrid grapes however, are a crossing of one vinifera vine variety and one vine of another species, imbuing them with broader genetic diversity which often supports higher resistance to the many viticultural threats faced in the vineyard. While this certainly is complex science, creating a new hybrid variety is as simple as melding together two vine cuttings in the nursery and letting Mother Nature take it from there. Read on to learn more about the specific grapes which we tend in our vineyards.
Developed in the 1920’s, this French variety is a crossing of two other hybrid grapes and contains DNA from three vine species (vinifera, rupestris, and lincecumii). We have a full acre of Seyval Blanc planted, which was first established in 1985. It is appreciated for its ability to produce high yields while maintaining lovely concentration of character. In the vineyard, Seyval Blanc has a naturally high resistance to a range of disease pressures and, as its plantings in Canada and New York would suggest, it is well suited to cool climates. However, here in Virginia, the warmer weather brings out a rich, ripe character that balances well with the wine’s bright acidity. Regular fans of fresh and crisp styles of Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc will easily enjoy the wines of Seyval Blanc.
A hybrid white grape variety bred in France in the 1930’s by the botanist Jean-Louis Vidal, Vidal Blanc has found great success in cool climate regions like Canada and Sweden for the production of top quality ice wines. It has also been proven to yield deliciously refreshing dry wines in more moderate climates such as is found here in Virginia. In the vineyard, the grape exhibits strong resistance to downy mildew. In the glass, the wine is noted for its great purity of fruit and mouthwateringly fresh acidity, while it lacks the “foxy” characteristics sometimes associated with hybrid grape varieties.
First bred in 1945 in France by Joannes Seyve (of Seyval Blanc fame) and named for a favored vineyard of his in Isère. Particularly vigorous but also well suited to humid climates, Chambourcin seldom struggles with mold and mildew, even in challenging vintages—a great benefit to Virginia wine growers! It is also a rare member of the teinturier category of wine grapes which have pigmented skins as well as juice, yielding wines with deep, vibrant color. The best examples showcase intriguing balance of both fruit and savory character, along with fresh acidity and soft tannins. It remains one of the most common hybrids in the vineyards of France, and also enjoys a following in Australia.
Named for Adhémar de Chaunac, the French viticulturist responsible for introducing Vidal Blanc to Ontario, this red grape variety is somewhat of a rarity, with only limited plantings to be found in Canada, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Like many hybrids, De Chaunac shows strong resistance to the damaging effects of mildew, even in humid climates. Its early ripening window also means it does not require as much hang time in the vineyard, thus limiting its exposure to late season vineyard threats.
A recent breakthrough in hybrid variety research, Merlot Kanthus was created in Friuli, Italy in 2002 at the University of Udine. In the vineyard, it has shown superior resistance to a range of mold, mildew, and pest pressures, while also yielding complex and well-structured wines, reminiscent of its parent variety, Merlot. A new addition to our vineyards, we will be eagerly awaiting its maturity so that we can begin working with this variety in the winery.
A Sustainable Vineyard
What does it mean to be “sustainable”? If over the long haul we are taking more from the Earth than we are returning to it, it is only a matter of time before we bankrupt our environment. For us, sustainability means tending our vineyard in ways that increases the health of our soil, strengthens biodiversity, captures atmospheric carbon, and preserves our farmland for future generations.
Integrated Pest Management
The use of beneficial plants, animals, and insects to balance pest populations is an ancient farming practice that has seen a major resurgence as grape growers have looked to reduce their carbon footprint and foster healthier vineyards. Using these techniques have allowed us to reduce reliance on chemical applications while also supporting our farm’s vibrant flora and fauna.