Whether establishing your first vineyard or expanding existing plantings, there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for success. While finding a suitable site is vital, investing in the right vines, the very foundations for the future success of the entire business, must be the next priority.

Many vineyard owners, new to the world of viticulture, seem too happy to accept vines which have been ordered at short notice from multiple nurseries, as agents scramble around to find the right clone and rootstock combinations, at the best possible price, just months before planting. But with little control or scrutiny over where the vines are sourced from, how can the future quality of the fruit be guaranteed? 

Putting quality and traceability first, in 2016 Sam Barnes started working with France’s largest nursery, Pépinières du Comtat, to ensure that growers in the UK could access high quality grafted vines, whose journey to the vineyard could be tracked right back to the specific rootstock plot, or bud site that they came from. 

“We don’t ever build up orders from other nurseries, and vines only ever come direct from Comtat,” said Sam Barnes, vine advisor and owner of viticultural contract firm SJ Barnes. “I would rather not supply and have a customer’s vines specifically grafted for the following year, than provide a grower with potentially inferior stock. Grafting is a very specialised process and I think more growers should be questioning how their vines are produced.”

Keen to share this intricate process with the industry, Sam recently took Vineyard magazine and several customers who will be planting in May 2019 on a tour of the facilities at Pépinières du Comtat.

Top nursery 

Nestled on the outskirts of Sarrians, a picturesque French village in Provence, is the Barnier family chateau; their one million bottle per year capacity winery, Fontaine Du Clos; and extensive vine grafting and storage facilities.

“Pépinières du Comtat is a cooperative of seven farmers who grow rootstocks and buds for grafting,” said Claire Barnier. “Our family is the biggest partner and this site, which is one of five production and storage spaces, is the largest.”

While the Barnier family had always run a small propagation operation, it was in 1969, 50 years ago, that Jean Barnier took over and started to develop and grow the company to the size it is today.

“We have around 380 hectares of rootstocks, which are used for our own vines and sold to other nurseries in France, Germany and Switzerland,” said Claire. “We then grow all our own buds, graft all our own vines and around 100 hectares of nursery is planted each spring. When you take all the rootstocks, buds and grafted plant numbers into consideration, Comtat is without doubt the top nursery in the country.”

The impressive volume of rootstock and vineyards for bud production, along with extensive production and storage facilities, means that growers who buy vines from Comtat can be confident that the team has overseen the entire process.

“Knowing that everything has been grown and looked after by Comtat is really important to our customers because they know we can safeguard the quality and also the security of their vines,” said Claire. “We can tell them where each rootstock and bud came from and we know exactly what has happened to the vines all the way from them growing in our vineyard to being planted in theirs.”

To read the full article go to the March online edition.