While the native territory of Vitis Vinifera is a band of area from Western Europe to the Persian shores of the Caspian Sea, the vine has demonstrated high levels of adaptability and will sometimes mutate to accommodate a new environment after its introduction. Because of this Viticulture can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
Duties of the viticulturist include: monitoring and controlling pests and diseases, fertilizing, irrigation, canopy management, monitoring fruit development and characteristics, deciding when to harvest and vine pruning during the winter months. Viticulturists are often intimately involved with winemakers, because vineyard management and the resulting grape characteristics, provide the basis from which winemaking can begin.
The earliest act of cultivation appears to have been the favoring of Hermaphroditic members of the Vitis Vinifera species over the barren male vines and the female vines which were dependent on having a nearby male to pollinate. With the ability to pollinate itself, over time the hermaphroditic vines were able to sire offspring that was consistently hermaphroditic itself.
The people of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learnt to cultivate the olive and the vine.The time period that Thucydides was most likely referencing was the time between 3000 BC and 2000 BC when viticulture emerged in force in the areas of Asia Minor, Crete, Greece and the Cycladic Islands of the Aegean Sea. It was during this period that grape cultivation moved from being just an aspect of local consumption to an important component of local economies and trade.
Roman expansion across Western Europe also brought Roman viticulture to the areas that would be home to some of the world most well known wine-growing regions-the Spanish Rioja, the German Mosel, and the French Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône. The Romans were one of the earliest viticulturists to identify steep hillsides as one of the more ideal locations to plant vines because cool air runs downhill and gathers at the bottom of valleys. While some cool air is beneficial, too much can rob the vine of the heat it needs for photosynthesis and in the wintertime increase the hazard for frost.
Many of the viticultural practices developed in this time period would become staples of European viticulture till the 18th century. Varietals were studied more intently to see which vines were the most suitable for a particular area. Around this time an early concept of terroir emerged as wines from particular places began to develop a reputation for uniqueness. The concept of pruning for quality over quantity emerged though it would create conflict between the rich landowners who wanted higher quality wines and the peasant laborers who livelihood dependent on the quantity of wine they could sell. The Riesling is the famous example for higher quality of wine. In 1435 Count John IV. of Katzenelnbogen started this successful tradition.
In Burgundy, the Cistercian monks developed the concept of cru vineyards as homogeneous pieces of land that consistent produces wines each vintage that are similar. In areas like the Côte-d'Or the monks divided the land into separate vineyards, many of which are still around today-like Montrachet and La Romanée.
As the wine and grape industry continue to grow in the United States, it is becoming increasingly important for growers to invest the time and money to properly prepare their vineyard site. There are several major factors an individual should take into account when preparing a successful vineyard site. These factors include, but are not limited to nutrient levels and physical composition of the soil, water drainage capability, perennial weed control and erosion control.
The main objective in vineyard nutrition should be to increase and provide the proper nutrient levels to the vine. Chemical properties needing to be controlled in a vineyard are soil pH, organic matter content, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc and boron levels. To check these levels, soil samples should be taken at two different depths (at 8 and at 16 inches) in an x-shaped pattern across the vineyard. Samples at the same levels should be mixed together, but the different depths should be tested separately. These samples should be taken one year prior to planting (Kurtural et al., 2007). Once the soil requirements have been determined and the grape varieties have been chosen for the site, additions of limestone or sulfur along with fertilizer should be added and deeply plowed or disked into the soil in order to incorporate the additives. Cultivating the soil will also speed up the process of mineralization of the existing organic material (Conradie et al., 1996).
There are several essential physical properties that need to be identified and controlled on any vineyard site. Sites should have proper drainage, deep soil with no impervious barriers, proper texture, and should be well-aggregated. These factors can be controlled by sub-soiling every two feet along rows and across rows to a depth of 36 inches. Soil compaction is a major limitation to root exploration and can negatively affect yield and plant health. (Hamdeh, 2003) Sub-soiling will systematically break up any barriers present in the soil which will allow for better root penetration and improved water drainage. Drainage tile installation may be necessary in severe instances of poor drainage (Zabadal et al., 1999).
A very important factor in vineyard preparation and management is perennial weed control. Herbicides should be applied during site preparation to control the effects of perennial weed species. Examples of these include Johnson grass, thistle, and woody species such as brambles. These weeds can live as budding root stocks and tap roots, along with stolons and as seed. The effects of perennial weed species can create competition between the vine and the weed for vital soil nutrients and water. Herbicides are available for control but must be used with caution so that grapevines are not negatively affected. (Dami et al., 2005) It is important to note that perennial weed control is not a step that occurs only at the onset of site development, but rather is an ongoing process that must be addressed as a normal part of successful vineyard management. Controlling the vineyard floor by limiting the growth of weed species will increase the amount of nutrients available for vine uptake which has been shown to improve berry weight, and vine capacity. (Tesic et al., 2007).
In the season before planting, a temporary cover crop should be established. It should be planted in the early spring of the year before and plowed under the soil in late August in order to control erosion and help add organic matter to the soil (Kurtural, 2007). For example, Sudan grass is an excellent choice that offers good weed control and decomposes slowly for improved soil structure. (Schonbeck, 1998) Other cover crop options can be found here
Usually in the fall, the temporary cover crop is plowed under in preparation for a permanent cover crop. A permanent cover crop is a cover crop that will be maintained in between vine rows and around the vineyard site. This crop will help control soil erosion and help to lessen the compaction that equipment like tractors, harvesters and mowers tend to have on the soil in between the rows allowing for better root exploration. Examples of good permanent cover crop for the eastern United States are perennial rye.
Other forms of erosion control are diversion ditches and standpipes. Diversion ditches lead surface water out of the vineyard from uphill areas. Standpipes are used to drain depression areas. Correcting soil erosion in existing vineyards is usually less effective, more expensive and more difficult than if appropriate measures had been taken in the pre-plant phase of vineyard development (Zabadal, 1999).
Grapevines can be grown in a variety of soil types. In each soil type certain characteristics must be met in order to establish a successful vineyard site. Growers need to properly evaluate and prepare their site well in advance of planting. There are several major factors that a grower should take into consideration when selecting, preparing and maintaining a vineyard site. Some of the most important factors to be taken into account are the nutrient levels and physical composition of the soil, water drainage capability, perennial weed control, erosion control and the creation of a weed free zone.
Other factors that viticulturists consider is the topography of the area with hillsides and slopes being preferred over flatter terrain. A main reason for this is that vines on an angle can receive a greater strength of the sun rays with the sunshine falling on a perpendicular angle to the slope. With flatter terrain, the strength of the sunlight is diluted as it is spread out across a wider surface area. An additional benefit is the natural drainage that a slope offers so that the vine doesn't sit with too much moisture in the soil. In cooler climate regions of the northern hemisphere, South facing slopes receive more hours of sunlight and are preferred. In warmer climates, north facing slopes are preferred. (In the southern hemisphere these orientations are reversed).
There are many hazards that a viticulturist needs to be aware of when growing vines. These hazards can have an adverse effect on the wine produced from the grape or kill the vine itself. When the vine is flowering it is very susceptible to weather hazards such as strong winds and hail. Cold temperatures during this period can also bring the onset of millerandage which produces clusters with no seeds and varying sizes. Too much heat can have the opposite reaction and produce Coulure that causes grape clusters to either drop to the ground or not fully develop.
Viticultural hazards include:
Green harvesting is a relatively modern practice most often used to produce fine wine. Removing the tiny, immature grapes while they are still green induces the vine to put all its energy into developing the remaining grapes. In theory this results in better ripening and the development of more numerous and mature flavour compounds. In the absence of a green harvest, a healthy, vigorous vine can produce dilute, unripe grapes.
Many traditionally renowned regions have natural conditions that suppress excess vigor. Examples include the gravelly soil of Bordeaux, the often cool climate of Burgundy, and the meager rainfall of Rioja. In these regions, the vine is prevented from producing too many grapes without human intervention. However, in regions with fertile soil, copious sunlight, and irrigation, the vine can generate huge quantities of characterless grapes. One solution is a green harvest. After fruit set, the quantity of grapes that will result from a vineyard can be estimated. Often the grower has a target yield in mind, measured in tons per acre or hectoliters per hectare. A portion of the grape bunches are cut off, to leave approximately the correct amount.
In Europe, many appellations restrict the yield permitted from a given area, so there is even more incentive to perform green harvesting when presented with excess crop. Often the excess must be sold for a pittance and used for industrial alcohol production rather than wine.
While the concept of thinning or sacrificing part of the grape crop, i.e. green harvesting, with the aim of improving the quality of the remaining grapes, predates modern critics, the practice has increased in recent times in vineyards found in California and areas where the grapes grow easily. (McCoy)
A field blend is a wine that is produced from two or more different grape varieties inter planted in the same vineyard. In the days before precise varietal identification, let alone rigorous clonal selection, a vineyard might be planted by taking cuttings from another vineyard and therefore approximately copying its genetic makeup. This meant that one vine could be Zinfandel and the next Carignan. When making wine with little equipment to spare for separate vinification of different varieties, field blends allowed effortless, though inflexible, blending.
Fermentation tanks are now cheap enough that the field blend is an anachronism, and almost all wines are assembled by blending from smaller, individual lots. However, in California some of the oldest (and lowest-yielding) Zinfandel comes from vineyards that are field-blended. Ridge Vineyards owns the Lytton Springs vineyards in Sonoma, which were planted from 1900 to 1905 in what Ridge calls "a traditional field blend of about seventy percent Zinfandel, twenty percent Petite Sirah, and ten percent Grenache and Carignan."
Gemischter Satz is a wine term in German equivalent to a field blend, which means that grapes of different varieties are planted, harvested and vinified together. In older times, this was common, but the practice has almost stopped.