What is an "ungrafted" grapevine?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I just purchased a Chilean Cabernet. It claims to be “original ungrafted wine.” Ungrafted? What does that mean?

—Steve H., Chicago

Dear Steve,

Most grapevines in the world today are grafted—that is, the vine cutting of one type of grape is attached to the root of another type of grape. The reason for doing this is to avoid the devastating root louse named phylloxera. This pest is attracted to the types of grapevines (Vitis vinifera) that make the best wines, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but not to the different species of American vines which grow grapes that you probably haven’t heard of. The desirable wine grapes are attached to the phylloxera-resistant rootstock, and that’s a good thing, because phylloxera is a nasty pest that can wipe out entire vineyards.

Some vineyards have survived phylloxera, and in Chile, where phylloxera has never been a problem, they can just plant the vinifera vines directly in the ground. Some people say grapes from ungrafted vines are superior—more intense and flavorful, and with better aging potential. I think it’s also a marketing ploy to put “ungrafted” on the label as a way to stand out from the pack.

—Dr. Vinny

Vineyard Management Vineyard Pests Phylloxera Winemaking Techniques Explained Ask Dr. Vinny

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