Wow! It's Still Mutating!
Imagine my surprise when my friend Jackie Wilferd and I spotted JUST ONE odd-looking “split grapevine” as I was showing her friends our small Wrotham Pinot vineyard three weeks ago. Blur your eyes and picture a vineyard: Each vine has canes growing outward from the top of the vine trunk – like horizontal branches of a small tree. New shoots and leaves grow from canes every year and can elongate a cane by many, many feet.
Everybody knows all the vines and shoots in a given vineyard look identical to each other. But what if ONE of those shoots (on ONE of those vines) has leaves identical to all others for a few inches, then its leaves alter to a different look –-- as if the cane suddenly changed into a different vine altogether? That is exactly what we saw, and exactly what we now find growing in our Wrotham vineyard in Napa Valley!
We found one single vine, astonishing to see, in which every shoot but one is covered by the normal ‘dull whitish-grey’ leaves that we recognize as Wrotham Clone Pinot Noir leaves. The one odd shoot is identical to the other shoots for a few inches, then suddenly each leaf (all the way out to the tip of the shoot) is no longer dull and whitish grey, but shiny and light yellow-green in color. It was lucky we happened to see it. Obviously, that individual shoot mutated in mid-growth as it was pushing out from a single bud to become this year’s cane.
The tiny, new mutant leaves at the growing tip are whitish (much like normal Wrotham clone leaves) but ALL the larger ones, beginning a few leaves back from the growing tip, have lost their tiny white hairs and grey color in exchange for a glossy yellow-green color.
Most people think of mutations as something that happened many centuries ago.” For example, I never expected to see a current Wrotham mutation with my own two eyes, yet there it is. The Wrotham Clone of Pinot Noir is continuing to mutate right now, while we watch. I now invite Pinot Noir lovers to call us and make an appointment so we can show you that mutating vine in the flesh. (The phone number can be found on the order form.) (June, 2011 note: I've now found a total of five Wrotham vines in this vineyard that have similar mutations along various growing vine shoots. So far, all the grapes on these mutant shoots look exactly like those on all the other vines in the vineyard.) If you call and stop by to see the vineyard, we'’ll open a bottle of cold Wrotham Pinot Sparkling Blanc de Noir to enjoy on the stroll through the vines.
O.K. A question: Does this mean that the Wrotham Pinot wines we now enjoy won't continue into the future?
Absolutely not! We can continue propagating the original vine as long as the world wants it. Since vineyards are propagated only by grafting, future Wrotham vines will continue to be true copies of the original Wrotham vine that was discovered in the 1950s in the village of Wrotham, Kent, England. Any new mutation (such as this recent 'find') can either be kept and propagated or thrown away.
For one thing, we don't know what kind of fruit it will produce. That has to wait until August when we'll see the fruit of the new growth for the first time. It might even be a white clone of Wrotham Pinot for all we know. Next year we hope to be able to taste a miniscule lab sample of the wine to see whether or not the quality is good enough to keep propagating the new natural mutation.