Jay Jenson, CEO
6735 Sonoma Hwy, Santa Rosa
For the backyard vintner and gardener: NovaBackyard.com
“Novavine has never tried to be the biggest, but we do strive to be the best.” Jay Jensen, CEO
Although he grew up in Wine Country, when Ellen Heath’s son, Jay Jensen, went off to study engineering and International Relations at WestPoint, he never imagined he would end up farming some of the world’s finest grape vine stock! While Jay was serving in the military after WestPoint, then helping run his step-father’s propane business, his Mom, Ellen Heath, developed the concept for Novavine.
In the 1980’s the phylloxera epidemic had emerged in California Wine Country and began attacking the AxR#1 rootstock which were previously thought to be immune to the soil borne pest. Thousands of acres of vineyards had to be ripped out and re-planted. Because there is no “cure” for phylloxera, the only way to protect the vines is to graft them onto resistant rootstock. Ellen and Milton Heath, like many, were replacing the zinfandel vines in their Lake County vineyards in the 1980’s. Although the demand for vines were especially high at the time, Ellen quickly learned that the rootstocks companies she had to worked with did not always have the highest quality products nor did they offer sufficient customer support or service during or after the sale. So, Ellen and Milton dreamed of grafting their own vines and developing the type of company they themselves would want to use.
In 1996 Ellen and Milton Heath decided to start their nursery at their home in Sebastopol. However, as it turns out, grafting vines onto rootstock is not an easy or straightforward operation! It is rather complicated and requires meticulous attention, expertise and a team effort every step of the way. But the Heath’s were determined. In 1998, they purchased 27 acres of the old Skylark Nursery in the Sonoma Valley just east of Santa Rosa and moved their operation to its current location – and Novavine was born.
With the move, Novavine also entered into a partnership with Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo (VCR)—the world’s largest grapevine nursery, located in northern Italy. Jay joined Novavine to help broker the partnership between Novavine and VCR.
VCR had nearly a hundred years of history successfully grafting wine grapes and as part of their partnership, they helped Novavine develop a grafting program here in Santa Rosa. That year, they grafted their first grapevines, producing 30,000 vines. Today, the team at Novavine is grafting almost 7 million vines per year!
But the journey to success has been long, laborious, and has required the kind of patience and dedication that most of us would find challenging. Even with the extensive knowledge and experience that VCR brought to the table, the sensitive nature of grafting, which is vulnerable to many variables, required much trial and error to find the right methodology and process to achieve the highest results. Without the family’s passion and commitment, they could have easily given up. Luckily for the wine industry, they persevered.
It is not uncommon to experience at least a 30 percent loss of rootstock during the grafting process, and sometimes more. But Novavine is committed to staying true to Ellen’s vision of ONLY sending out vines that they can be proud of! Through their hard work, innovative spirit, and again, lots of patience, Jay and his team have developed their own unique propagation techniques and pioneered many sustainable methods to establish, grow and protect plants. They continuously look for new ways to innovate and experiment with processes and technology to consistently provide their customers with the highest quality plants available while remaining good stewards of our land.
“Quality by Choice” Novavine’s first motto by Ellen Heath, Founder
Since 2004, Novavine has been a leader in sustainable and non-chemical nursery practices. Production practices emphasize the use of probiotics, compost teas, and physical and cultural practices that enhance plant growth and health in the propagation cycle with minimal use of chemicals. Their plant material is CDFA Certified and they also offer Protocol 2010 From Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis.
In addition to developing the heartiest, healthiest and highest quality vines for their customers, it is essential to Novavine that the vineyards are successful. They are committed to be with you every step of the way, from the time you order your vines until you open you first bottle.
“Our philosophy is rooted in relationship building,” explains Jay with no pun intended, “we are partners with our growers…their success is our success.”
To ensure that only the highest quality vines go into the hands of their growers, Novavine developed a Priority Testing Protocol (PTP) to provide customers with an additional level of assurance regarding plant health – specifically focusing on Red Blotch Associated Virus (RBaV) and Leaf Roll associated Virus (LRaV3). This level of quality control provides for individual handling and monitoring of vines, for each individual order, throughout the vine’s growth in the field. Each customer’s plants are handled with the utmost care and customers are actually encouraged to inspect their vine material at any time during the process!
In addition to their 27 acres here in Santa Rosa (and 250,000 square feet of greenhouses and a shade house) Novaine farms 325 acres in Woodland for its field nursery and increase block. All Novavine orders are custom. They have over 25 varieties of rootstocks to accommodate almost any soil/site and over 75 varietals with multiple clonal selections that can be grafted in order to create the perfect combination. Their knowledgeable sales staff helps customers choose the best combination to meet their needs. A viticulturist is on staff to provide expert information and aids your sales rep.
Novavine is dedicated to industry improvement, staying abreast of all the current issues and developments, invested in industry-wide research and educating grape growers and wine makers. Jay is active in the California Grape Rootstock Improvement Commission, The Foundation Plant Services Grape Advisory Committee and the CDFA Improvement and Nursery Boards.
Because of the company’s passion for our agricultural heritage Novavine is actively supporting the Farm Bureau in its efforts to protect agricultural interests and our right to farm. Jay believes that the most effective way to be heard is a strong united voice and knows that Farm Bureau provides this platform.
In addition to being at the cutting edge of vine production, Novavine is continually finding ways to answer their customer’s needs. Because customers often request small orders (under 400 vines), they created NovaBackyard to fill smaller orders, assist hobby vineyard or orchard growers, replants, or landscape needs. In addition to small vine orders, NovaBackyard sells olive and citrus trees grown on their property with the same high standard that goes into growing vines.
Our wine industry is indeed in good hands with Novavine, and we are lucky to have them right here, literally beside us! If you find you need to replace your vines, or if you are starting a new vineyard, Jay and his team would love to help you find the best possible vines for your situation. You will receive not only the best vines, but top-of the line customer service that together will ensure that your vineyard produces the world-class wines you strive to produce.