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Duarte Holds First Clonal Field Day

by Kerana Todorov
September 24, 2019
Vineyard consultant Stan Grant, left, and Duarte Nursery president John Duarte, right, walk through Duarte Georgetown Vineyards on Friday to taste berries from various clones. Friday was the first of five Clonal Field days at the mother stock vineyard. Kerana Todorov/Wine Business Monthly
A dozen visitors hiked on Friday Duarte Georgetown Vineyards in Greenwood, El Dorado County as part of Clonal Field Days. The walks take place every Friday through Oct. 18. Kerana Todorov/Wine Business Monthly.

Growers, viticulturists and others, clipboards in hand, on Friday hiked Duarte Georgetown Vineyards, a secluded property with sweeping views of the Eldorado National Forest. They were there to taste and compare dozens of clones of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties from the vines which supply Duarte Nursery with certified budwood.

This was this year’s first Clonal Field Day, an annual open house that takes place every Friday through Oct. 18 at the property, one Duarte Nursery’s mother block vineyards. It is an opportunity for growers to taste and compare dozens of clones at their peak before harvest.

About 215 acres of the property at 2,400 feet are planted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot and other red varieties. Altogether, there are 70 clones and 16 varieties farmed on red sites clay loam.

“This a place where we have all the clones actually growing side by side,” said Tia Russell, a field representative for Duarte as she waited for guests to arrive at Duarte Georgetown Vineyards.

The El Dorado AVA vineyard is also a regular commercial operation. Fruit is sold to multiple wineries, including Bogle Vineyards in Clarksburg and Michael David Winery in Lodi, said Duarte Nursery president John Duarte. The mountain fruit “has a lot of kick,” he noted.

On Friday, Duarte encouraged his guests to taste and compare benchmark clones, known in the industry for producing high yield, quality crops, with alternative clones that may produce as much fruit but with more nuanced flavors.

Duarte also spoke about how to preserve clonal diversity. The nursery, based in Hughson near Modesto, encourages growers to submit plant material they want to see propagate to Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis. FPS re-circulates the material as clean source foundation wood to the nursery industry. This ensures future generations have access to these clones, Duarte said.

“Otherwise, we’re narrowing down our selections to just a few things we’re planting now,” Duarte said. “It’s really important that the industry capture these clones now.”

Zinfandel producers through Zinfandel Advocates and Producers – ZAP – have submitted plant materials for that variety. But, “other varieties could use more,” Duarte said.

Duarte Georgetown Vineyards, first planted in 2002 and further developed in 2014, is isolated from other commercial vineyards. That has helped prevent the spread of diseases, Duarte and Russell said. While a few vines at have been rogued with red blotch over the years – the vectors seem to particularly like Malbec - no mealybug has been found in the vineyard, Duarte said.

The company makes sure the block remain clean by taking a number of precautions.

Visitors park away from vineyard blocks. Field representatives and other visitors are asked to have their trucks go through a car wash before heading for the Georgetown vineyard, Duarte said.

Duarte also does not want dogs in his vineyards. Dogs may sniff mealybugs in one vineyard, jump in their owner’s trucks and transport the insects to another vineyard, he said. “Don’t bring dogs!”

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