While taller overall vines do exist in regions such as Galicia with their pergola training method, the roots of any vine usually top out at 37cm. It’s at this top point where the Vitis vinifera shoot is grafted in and continues to grow, giving us such grapes as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. This is opposed to the rootstocks which are composed of various crosses of vines such as Vitis rupestris which aren’t used for wine production but are resistant to the root louse, phylloxera.
This new tall-trunked vineyard of 12.5ha contains 40,000 Xarel·lo vines and is located in the village of Sant Sebastià dels Gorgs, halfway between Vilafranca del Penedès and Sant Sadurní. These are the two most prominent municipalities in DO Penedès for the production of still wines as well as the sparkling wines of DO Cava or Corpinnat.
Nursery viticulture technician, Enric Regull told Decanter that the inspiration came when they were visiting vineyards up in Germany where the practice is more common. Regull says that this additional height offers countless advantages such as, ‘…better resistance to drought, faster forming of the vines in trellises, keeping fruit away from animals that would eat it, not needing trunk protectors when cleaning up vegetative growth and eliminating excess secondary shoots.’
Vines grafted on to and then trained from the 80cm trunks are also easier for people to work given their added height and they can also be machine harvested in an easier, more consistent fashion.
While they’re seeing the first fruit from these vines in 2022, they will only start harvesting grapes for wine production in 2024, but they’re so encouraged by the results to date that they’ll be planting 17,000 more vines in the same manner next year. From there, they hope to implement these changes in other vineyards if the results continue to be positive.
The work of Casa Jaume Sabaté runs in parallel to studies that were conducted 15 years ago by Familia Torres. To see how vine height affected maturation and other aspects of viticulture, they did control vine plantings at the standard 60cm in height, others to what was then, a non-standard 90cm and then traditional bush vine plantings.
While these vines were planted with a standard rootstock height of 37cm as opposed to the 80cm of this new vineyard, they found that height did indeed make a difference with the 90cm vines pushing out maturation by four days over those at 60cm. Interestingly, the bush vines matured even one day longer than the 90cm vines, but unfortunately bush vines incur a great deal more work given their innate structure lower to the ground and with more branches. They also can’t be machine harvested which is a facet to viticulture that’s becoming more and more necessary due to labour shortages as well as the need to harvest at night to preserve acidity in the grapes.
But the Torres study reinforces what Casa Jaume Sabaté has found in that with a changing climate along with droughts becoming more commonplace, it seems that raising the level of vines planted in trellises is but one way to counter these challenges. Clearly, even with raising the vines combined with other methods such as heavy canopy control, shade nets and having lower planting density, there are limits in terms of pushing out maturation and if nothing else changes, viticulture could very well not be possible in many of the areas it currently takes place.