University of California (UC) researchers are evaluating more than two-dozen wine grape varieties from European appellations for suitability to San Joaquin Valley production. The trial at UC’s Kearney Ag Center includes Aglianico, Montepulciano, Cinsaut, Souzao, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo and Durif among others.

The vines are being evaluated for adaptability to the valley’s warm climate, fruit color and acidity, water-use efficiency and other traits. Jim Wolpert, chairman of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, is heading up the project.

“Right now, we’re primarily looking at what they can do as a blend,” he says. “When you get into the warmer growing regions such as the valley, you need varieties that perform optimally under these unique circumstances.”

It’s well known that the quality of Chardonnay and Merlot grown in the SJV does not measure up to that grown in coastal counties. However, that should not deter the San Joaquin Valley growers, according to Wolpert.

“The goal shouldn’t be to produce an average bottle of wine,” he says. “We need to make a good bottle of wine. Even though we’re looking at about 40 different varieties right now, that’s just the tip of the iceberg compared to what’s out there. This trial is intended to get rid of the dogs so we can go forward with the ones that offer promise in the Valley.”