men walking through the vineyard

The Importance of Viticulture

If you love exploring the wonderful world of wine as much as we do, then understanding the grape-to-glass lifecycle is the natural next step in deepening your passion for wine.

Wine is one of the oldest and most beloved beverages in human history. And it all starts with viticulture – the science and practice of growing grapes for wine production.

Viticulture has evolved and its processes refined over thousands of years. It’s a complex discipline and is dependent on a lot of factors, but, in essence, when the right grapes are grown in the right climate, on the right piece of land, and in the right type of soil, you are on your way to producing high-quality wine that captures the unique terroir of the growing region.

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What is viticulture?

Viticulture is the scientific study of grapes, encompassing everything from fresh table grapes to snack-ready sultanas to wine production. Viticulture lends itself to everything from fertilisation, monitoring climate, pest management, checking soil quality, scheduling irrigation, and implementing programs for sustainable farming.

When grapes are being used specifically for wine production, the study of grapes can also be called viniculture.

The history of viticulture

The use of grapes in wine production began as far back as 6000 BC in Georgia and Iran, spreading to Egypt around 3000 BC. The Egyptians were the first to create wine labels, inscribing jugs with the winemaker's name and the year in which it was produced.

However, viticulture really took off when it reached Rome. The Romans transported wine in wooden barrels around 200 AD and implemented what we recognise as modern-day wine production techniques. From the Romans, the process of wine production spread across Europe and evolved into the process we know today.

Duties of a viticulturist

Managing grapevines is complicated, especially when wine production is the end goal. Viticulturists have an expert understanding of a vineyard's specific climate, soil, and topography and ensure the grapes grow and develop properly prior to harvesting and wine production.

Nepenthe's Senior Viticulture Manager, Jurie Germishuys, says his role is centred around ensuring Nepenthe's vines in the Adelaide Hills are happy and healthy.

"We are very fortunate here in the Adelaide Hills as we have vineyards with absolutely amazing soils, aspects and climates. Our actions create an ideal environment for the vines to grow and thrive, enabling them to grow the best quality grapes to produce the best quality wines."

Nepenthe's Regional Manager for Premium Vineyards, Spiro Papadopoulos, says a big part of his role involves working closely with James Evers, Nepenthe's Head Winemaker.

"We make decisions around soil health, plant nutrition, pest control and disease management. But we also need to work closely with James to grow grapes in line with his expectations. He has exposure to the customer and what they like, so we need to translate this into viticulture to give him the result he is looking for."

The basic steps of wine growing

Wine growing is a complex process involving several steps and a great deal of skill, knowledge and expertise to produce the wines we all love.


Step 1: Selection of appropriate vineyards and vines

The first step in wine growing involves selecting grape varieties that are perfectly matched to the specific growing conditions of the environment. Soil type, climate, topography, and water availability are all factors that influence this selection process.

Nepenthe has three main vineyards that grow different grape varieties according to each area's specific aspect, weather and soil type. The diversity in microclimates that we are blessed with in the Adelaide Hills means our viticulturists can grow a wide variety of grapes to create Nepenthe's fantastic range of premium red, white, sparkling and rosé.


Step 2: Growing and maintaining the vines

Growing and maintaining the vines takes up the majority of a viticulturist's time. The vines in Nepenthe's vineyards are spaced 2.4 metres apart, and we use 'vertical shoot positioning' to train the vines to grow upwards, giving the fruit good access to sunlight.

As the grapes develop, regular checks are in place to test sugar and acidity levels to ensure they are on track with the winemaker's expectations.

During the winter, the vines are pruned back and treated for fungus, removing old and dead growth and refreshing the plant for the following season.


Step 3: Harvest

Making fine wine is highly dependent on the grapes being harvested at precisely the right time. A combination of science and good old-fashioned tasting is imperative in determining when to harvest.

How grapes are harvested

The grapes are ready to be harvested once they have reached maturity and the desired amount of sugar is present. White grapes are usually harvested before red grapes.

Nepenthe grapes are harvested in the early hours of the morning either mechanically or by hand and then sent on to be processed.

Factors that Affect Harvesting Time

Weather conditions have a critical impact on grape ripening and quality. For example, unusually warm weather can cause grapes to ripen faster, accumulating more sugar in the process, resulting in wines that are unbalanced and high in alcohol.

Too much rain or humidity can cause the grapes to rot or develop mould, while extremely cool weather can hinder flavour development in the fruit and delay anthocyanins – the natural pigments found in grape skins that give red wine its deep colour and tannic structure.


Step 4: Crush the grapes

For thousands of years, men and women danced and stomped on their vineyard's harvested grapes to begin the fruit's transcendent transformation into wine. Today, in most commercial wineries, mechanical crushers perform this task.

To make white wine, the crushed grapes (otherwise known as 'must') will be quickly pressed to separate the juice from the skins, seeds, and solids. This stops the colour and tannins of the grape skins from bleeding into the white wine. Conversely, red wine is left in contact with the grape skins to develop colour, flavour, and additional tannins during the fermentation process.


Step 5: Fermenting grapes into wines

Fermentation is where the magic happens. It's a critical step in the winemaking process in which yeast converts grape juice into wine and produces the alcohol and flavour compounds that give the wine its unique taste and aroma.

Fermentation can require anywhere from ten days to a month or more. Once fermentation begins, it usually continues until all the sugar is converted to alcohol and wine is produced.

The winemaker will carefully control the fermentation process through various techniques to achieve the desired wine style.


Step 6: Ageing and bottling the wines

The final stage of wine making involves the ageing and bottling of wine. After the fermentation process is complete and the wine has been filtered and clarified, the wine can be bottled immediately, or the wine can be aged in barrels or tanks before it is bottled and ready for the cellar door.


So there you have it! From selecting the right grape varieties to managing the vineyard throughout the growing season, every step of the viticulture process is paramount in creating our premium wines here in the Adelaide Hills.

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