men walking through the vineyard

The Importance of Viticulture

To sound like a wine expert, it is crucial to understand viticulture 101. Viticulture is the study of wine science and a branch of horticulture, that dictates how vineyards should be grown and maintained. Viticulture has been practiced for thousands of years, and has become an important part of many cultures, with the wine it produces being central to religious and social events for centuries. As viticulture evolved and spread across the globe, the processes became more refined, ensuring the right grapes are grown in the right conditions and are cared for correctly, delivering the highest possible quality wine.

What is viticulture?

The word viticulture comes from the Latin word for “vine” or “wine growing”. Viticulture is a horticultural pursuit. It is the scientific study of wine growing, grapes and grapevines in relation to their best growth, sugar production and harvest. Without viticulture there would be no wine, viticulturists monitor pests and diseases, advise on fertilisation and irrigation and ensure the grapes develop properly. All of these tasks are crucial to the amount of sugar produced by the grapes, the number of grapes grown in total and their overall quality.

The history of viticulture

The use of grapes in wine production began as far back at 6000 BC in Georgia and Iran, spreading to Egypt in around 3000 BC. The Egyptians were the first to create wine labels, inscribing jugs with the name of the winemaker as well as the year in which it was produced. However, viticulture really took off when it reached Rome, with the Romans transporting wine in wooden barrels in around 200 A.D. and implementing what we recognise as modern-day wine production techniques. The Romans were the first to use stakes to train grapevines; prior to this, grapevines were left to grow into the canopy of trees and harvested from metres in the air. From the Romans, the process of wine production spread across Europe and evolved into the process we know today.

Duties of a viticulturist

A viticulturist engages in all things wine growing, wine production and wine science. Viticulturists organise, implement and oversee all of the facets of the wine industry and the growing of grapes for wine. This includes all of the horticultural activities associated with wine growing, like planting seedlings and grafting new varieties of grapes onto rootstocks, fertilising and irrigating vines, controlling pests, diseases and weeds, dividing and pruning the vines and maintaining the grapevines optimal growing conditions including allowing enough light into the vine’s canopy. Viticulturists may also maintain the facilities associated with wine production such as fences and equipment and manage the operations of the vineyard at large and liaising with buyers and winemakers.

The basic steps of wine growing

Wine growing is a process which has been developed over thousands of years and is a multistep process involving the development of climatically appropriate vines, maintaining and harvesting the crop. Step 1: Selection of appropriate vineyards and vines
 

Step 1: Selection of appropriate vineyards and vines

The key to quality wine is the right grape vines grown in the right conditions, as different vines are suited to different temperatures, rainfall amounts and soil types. When the grape variety is matched with its ideal conditions the finest wines are produced. Once this information is gathered, the appropriate vine is chosen to meet the area's specific climatic requirements. Once the right vines have been selected, irrigation is installed in rows of up to three metres apart and the vines are planted along this irrigation and grown on trellises. It usually takes about three years for a new vineyard to establish and produce fruit. Nepenthe’s vineyards have considered these crucial factors, matching the rolling hills of its Balhannah Vineyard and warmer aspect with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir vines, and splitting the land use in the Hahndorf vineyard between Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz in the heavier and lighter soils respectively, of the site. Although with the many microclimates of the Adelaide region, Nepenthe are able to grow a huge variety of grapes from Sauvignon Blanc, to Prosecco, Pinot Gris and Viognier across their three vineyards.

 

Step 2: Growing and maintaining the vines

Growing and maintaining the vines takes up the majority of a viticulturist’s time. During the winter, the vines are pruned back and treated for fungus, removing any old and dead growth and refreshing the plant for the following season. In Nepenthes Balhannah, Charleston and Hahndorf vineyards, the vines are spaced between 2.4 metres apart. The canopy is managed into a Vertical Shoot Positioning style, where the vines are trained upwards, making them easy to maintain and giving the fruit good access to sunlight. As the vines grow and the fruit develops, they are watered and fertilised regularly. The developing fruits are regularly checked for sugar and acidity to ensure the growing conditions are conducive to the quality of wine the winemaker hopes to produce.

 

Step 3: Harvest

Harvesting occurs once the desired amount of sugar is present in the grapes. A series of warm days can bring on a harvest as the fruit ripens quickly in warm weather. White grapes are usually harvested before red grapes; the lower the sugar content of a wine, the earlier its grapes are harvested. Grapes are harvested in the early hours of the morning either mechanically or by hand and then sent on to be processed. Again, the more precision the grapes are processed the higher the wine’s quality of flavour. Nepenthe achieves its award-winning spicy, nectarine flavoured 2020 Nepenthe Altitude Gruner Veltliner by crushing, de-stemming, gently pressing and cold settling the fruit for four days before inoculating it with natural yeasts to increase complexity and texture.