"Working the Land" (Viticulture)

Viticulture: Muscat At-A-Glance
Vigor (low/high)
Alexandria: moderately vigorous to vigorous; Ottonel: low to moderate vigor; Blanc: moderate to high vigor; Orange: high vigor
Blanc: Sandy soils cause very poor vigor, so best to plant on fairly fertile soils; Alexandria: fussy with soils; the damper the better, but OK with heat and can tolerate extremes of heat and drought; Ottonel: can perform well in limestone soils but other
Yield (potential)
Alexandria: high-yielding; Blanc: variable depending on root stock choice
Growth Cycle
Blanc: early budding, mid-late ripening; Orange: early to mid budding and ripening; Alexandria: mid budding, late-ripening; Hamburg: mid ripening; Ottonel: early ripening
Blanc: Susceptible to powdery mildew, botrytis. And being so highly perfumed, it attracts insects and animals (deer, birds); Orange: somewhat susceptible to mildew and botrytis, but prone to berry split; Alexandria: susceptible to powdery mildew, botrytis

Growing and Making Muscat in California

Frankly, beyond producing volume, there’s not much motivation in California in the cultivation of most Muscat grapes and little available on variety-specific viticulture. When it comes to Muscat in California, the consensus is that across selections, to achieve appropriate yields and top-quality fruit, canopy management is paramount. A heavy canopy is essential to reduce sunburn in Muscat fruit which tends to be (though less so with the Alexandria grape) sensitive to extremes of hot and cold. A long duration of high temperatures at the wrong stage of fruit development can lead to significant yield loss and diminished quality. 

Working the Land:

Does soil influence the flavor of the final wine?

Traditionalists answer unequivocally “Yes!” Soil is a key element of “terroir,” the natural environment in which the vines grow, along with climate (temperature, rainfall), topography (altitude, drainage, slope, aspect) and sunlight.

A more unorthodox view holds that the influence of soil on what you taste in the glass is a myth. Maynard Amerine and Ann Noble, two famous names at UC Davis, California’s premier wine school and wine research facility, did a study on the topic. Though the study is based on Chardonnay grapes, they concluded that the following holds true for all wine grapes: “no outstanding sensory differences were observed in wines produced from different soil type locations.” The key word is “sensory” (sight, smell, taste). They are not saying that the soil doesn’t affect vine behavior (yield, growth cycle, etc.). 

Muscat Blanc is most commonly trained to bilateral cordons and pruned to 12 to 18 two-node spurs. Retaining low node numbers may limit cluster numbers unnecessarily and contribute to very compact clusters that are prone to bunch rot. Some very vigorous vineyards are head-trained and cane-pruned to assure adequate yield and to reduce bunch rot with more loose clusters. Mechanical hedge, non-selective pruning is an alternative to cane-pruning. Muscat Alexandria is also most commonly trained to bilateral cordons and pruned to 12 to 18 spurs with one to two nodes each. Shoots and clusters are thinned for crop adjustment through the training period. 

If interested, and by grape selection, more can be learned at University of California’s Garden Web or UC Davis’s Foundation Plant Services Grape Program.

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Sustainability and California

As an agricultural industry, the California wine community has a long history of adapting to change and demonstrating its commitment to sound environmental practices and social responsibility. Building on these efforts are the educational and certification programs of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA). Established by Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers, CSWA is the most comprehensive and widely adopted wine sustainability program in the world, and– together with other important sustainability programs in regions throughout the state– has made California wine a leader in addressing climate change.