Nemea in Peloponnese, Greece might just be a comparatively small PDO region against its international counterparts of Rioja, Chianti, Bordeaux and the alike, however, combines all the characteristics that compose a PDO with great potential to evolve over the next years.
Among these crucial features we will find a grape with high the qualitative dimensions, the Agiorgitiko, an excellent (in most of the years) Mediterranean climate, with 80% of the precipitation falling after the harvest up to March and finally a complex terroir, with seven different valleys, which range from 100 to 800 meters of altitude, with different exposures, slopes and soils; features compiling the patchwork of a sophisticated wine area.
And yet we still discover difficulties not readily visible from upfront. The most important of them is that the Nemea Agiorgitiko is not disease-free, impacting negatively on its quality characteristics. To put it simply it has been scientifically documented that the leafroll virus, one of the major problems of the grape, has a negative impact on the production of sugar, colour intensity and aromas, according to viticulturist Constantine Bakasietas, who is based in Nemea.
Bakasietas has spent over ten years of research in Agiorgitiko and will be ready to release the first 6 certified and healthy 'clones', the result of the cooperation of the nursery of VNB with ENTAV, during the period between 2016 and 2017.
Beware! So as to avoid the perilous connotations that the phrase "clone" may generate, do note that within a single vineyard different 'strands' of a variety may exist, i.e. particular plants that bring slightly different characteristics than others of the same variety.
As an example such clones may bear smaller berries, produce larger yields, or their grapes may ripen more quickly. Indeed, some varieties show great variability among them and for Agiorgitiko Bakasietas, after years of observations, have found more than 260 different clones!
For clonal selection you need first to identify the originally different 'strands' in the vineyard, a process that requires time and careful observation, and then attempt to isolate the specific desired 'clones' in the nursery, through reproduction, based simply on the fact that the characteristics of a plant can be passed unaltered from generation to generation.
Though it does not sound difficult, in reality it is a long process of more than ten years, in order to finally reach a chosen plant via breeding, testing and continuous checks on a secluded 'clone'. Thereafter the continuous probability of natural mutations and the spread of viruses in the vineyard, means that the clonal selection never stops but is rather a perpetual process.
The primary goal of Bakasietas was to create clones that would be free from viruses that afflict Agiorgitiko. As he said with a smile, "as we Nemean people are by nature optimistic, we hope and we expect that by just presenting healthy versions of the variety, this will have a tremendous positive impact on the quality of the grape".
The first generation of these six clones is selected on the basis of mainly qualitative characteristics such as smaller berries, better ripening and with an emphasis that the variety is susceptible to botrytis. Thus the efforts were focused on less compact bunches that will ripen earlier; Agiorgitiko as a late-ripener suffers from autumn rains during harvest time affecting negatively quality something evident in the vintages 2002, 2009 and partly 2011.
'Once the clones are available in the market will the changes in the quality of the grapes be striking and obvious right away'? A fair question that for Bakasietas 'any potential improvements in the wine will be effected at least ten years after the planting of new clones', in other words sometime around 2025-2030. Of course with Agiorgitiko already being one of the leading Greek varieties, the anticipation is great for its future development.
As they say: 'you reap what you sow', but in the case of vines and clonal selection tomorrow means an entire new generation! Be patient!
*** All images are from Bakasieta nurseries