05 Apr Viticulture around the world
Did you know that there is a special branch of horticulture entirely devoted to the science of producing wine grapes? It’s called viticulture, and if that sounds like your kind of horticulture, consider that there are degree programs in the subject offered by major universities in Canada… so if it’s time for a job change, viticulture is waiting! If you’d like to know just a little bit more about viticulture, read on to learn about this fascinating discipline.
With care, vines can flourish anywhere
While the common grape vine, vitis vinifera, prefers relatively temperate climate zones and is native to a belt extending from what is now Western Europe to the Arabian countries, like many other plants, mankind has practiced cultivation and genetic modification techniques that have far extended its native range. This practice has been going on for some time; while ancient Roman scholars waxed poetic about their wines, there is evidence of viticulture dating back as far as the Neolithic period! And we definitely know that grapes were domesticated at least 3,000 years before Christ, along with the all-important olive, in Mediterranean countries. Wine makes severable notable appearances in the Bible and was clearly a very important beverage and an important part of the trade economy, in antiquity.
Adaptable and versatile, today wine grapes have been introduced to every continent except for Antarctica.
What does viticulture involve?
Although vines can grow just about everywhere, that doesn’t mean they are not susceptible to many threats that must be managed. It is the task of the viticulturist to manage the vineyard, which includes:
- Applying and ensuring proper fertilization, irrigation and soil conditions
- Applying proper canopy management and pruning
- Monitoring and controlling mutations
- Monitoring and controlling diseases that can affect the vines
- Watching for and controlling pests
- Checking and recording fruit development and characteristics
- Deciding when to harvest
- Working hand in hand as a consultant to winemakers, helping them determine when winemaking can begin
A note about GMO
While today the term ‘genetically modified’ or GMO has negative connotations among consumers, it’s a bit of a misnomer, because mankind has been practicing genetic modifications on many plants (including and especially the wine grape) for thousands of years. Indeed, viticulture was only able to begin in earnest with the cultivation of hermaphroditic vines that could self-pollinate; like many other plants, vines also have a male and a female of the species which would need to cross-pollinate, a chancy business, in order to bear fruit.
Beyond that, strenuous human intervention is still needed to produce wine. While the weather plays a huge role in that the wine grape loves sunshine, specific soil conditions, and only craves moisture at certain times, regular intervention is nevertheless needed to ensure that vines are as protected as possible from fungal conditions and pests that could destroy the harvest.
If you are intrigued by the possibility of living in the South of France and making wine for a living, an education in viticulture is essential. Take a look at the degree and diploma programs available to you. Salut!