After suffering massive vineyard losses in 1999 and 2000 due to Pierce's disease, Callaway Vineyards and Winery in Southern California's Temecula Valley began turning to coastal grape sources. But now the region's largest winery is experimenting with replanting at its Temecula estate, a hopeful sign for a troubled appellation.
Over the past couple of years, grapegrowers in Temecula and the rest of Southern California have been hard hit by the rapid spread of the glassy-winged sharpshooter, an insect that transmits the vine-killing malady known as Pierce's disease.
Callaway experienced some of the greatest vine losses in the tiny Temecula appellation, losing upwards of 40 percent of its vines. This loss was due to its proximity to citrus orchards (a favorite haunt of the sharpshooter), and to the predominance of Chardonnay, a variety particularly susceptible to Pierce's disease, in its vineyards.
In 2000 Callaway changed its name to "Callaway Coastal" as it began using grapes from Central Coast vineyards, in addition to its badly damaged Temecula vineyards, in an effort to meet its needs. The move was interpreted by some as an attempt on the part of Allied Domecq, Callaway's parent company, to distance the Callaway name from Temecula and its disease problems.
This fall, however, Allied Domecq seems to have refocused some of its corporate resources on Callaway. The renewed attention may be the result of "continued industry and consumer support for the Callaway name," according to winery spokesperson Peggy Evans.
"The Temecula winery has been and continues to be one of Allied Domecq's most popular tasting rooms and visitor centers, and the company's only one in Southern California," said Evans.
As the tide of Pierce's disease in Temecula appears to have slowed, Callaway -- which has played a leading role in the valley over the past 30 years -- is cautiously beginning to replant. Vineyard manager Craig Weaver is replacing Pierce's disease-susceptible Chardonnay vines on a 7-acre test plot with more-resistant Cabernet Sauvignon, to assess whether replanting on a large scale would be worthwhile.
Weaver will work closely with University of California Agricultural Extension advisor Raymond Hix, trying five different approaches. "The emphasis will be on using sustainable methods," Weaver said.
Meanwhile, other growers are beginning to replant as well. Their progress will be aided with $7.14 million from a federal agricultural assistance package, which is being made available to compensate Temecula growers who have pulled up vines as a result of Pierce's disease. Karen Ross, director of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, said that the California Department of Food and Agriculture is developing criteria for compensating growers so that the funds can be distributed equitably.
Joe Travis Hart, owner of Hart Winery and president of the Temecula Valley Winegrape Growers Association, replanted some vines in 2000 and said he is waiting to see how those fare in the next year or two before replanting on a wider scale.
Peter Poole, president of Mount Palomar Winery, plans to replant 8 acres this year. He is trying some new varieties, among them Tannat, a variety from southern France, which he feels should do well in Temecula.
Read more about Callaway and Pierce's disease in Temecula: