Vine Wars

Vine Wars
Nothing looks more tranquil than a vineyard. Long rows of neat vines, leaves gently blowing in the wind and grape bunches slowly swelling in the summer heat.

But there’s a war going on. Vines are under attack from below the soil from nematodes and insects, above from snails and viruses and above from birds. Rabbits love leaves and deers strip bark from trunks which kill young vines.

The grape grower has technology and science among his defence tools, and old time protections like fences and spray.

But when grapes ripen and get sweet it’s a race to see who’ll harvest them first.

Vineyards near housing suffers ‘finger blight’, when people help themselves. In some recent cases entire vineyards have been stripped of their crop by thieves who sell the grapes to other wineries.

In southern Europe wild pigs come out of forests to devastate vineyards. At Domaine de Gravillas in France Nicole and John Bojanowski lost their harvest when leathery skinned wild boars trampled down the electric fence they’d put around their vineyard. More serious action was needed; they blasted two-hundred postholes into solid granite, dug a 675-metre ditch, and erected a two metre high game fence. The next year they made wine.

Grizzly bears scoff grapes in remote California vineyards. Carmenet Winery’s label shows a grizzly grape grazing while another lies sleeping under vines, and Gundlach-Bundeschu’s Bearitage wines depict a standing bear squeezing juice from a grape bunch into its open mouth.

Two weeks ago, while in South Africa, I visited Fryer’s Cove vineyards at the coast 300 kilometres north of Cape Town. Their vines get covered with salt blown in from the nearby Atlantic and need to be regularly sprayed with fresh water.

Birds are another problem. Neither scarecrows, sound guns nor flashing lights worked for long so the farmer took his shotgun and blasted away.

One flock wheeled around. He followed them with his gun and shot. Unfortunately he severed a cable strung along the old telegraph poles alongside the only road to the remote community at the coast. Even worse the cable wasn’t copper wire but a fibre-optic data and communications cable and he had to pay a huge sum for its repair.

Baboons are problem for many South African vineyards. These cunning creatures come down from the mountains to look for fruit and they love ripe grapes.

“We put up an electric fence,” viticulturist Anton Roos at Silkbush Mountain Vineyards told me, “but they worked out how to get through it. We’ve had to erect a much larger one.” As he spoke we saw a Grysbok, a small local antelope, step out of a row of vines. We stood staring at each other until I reached for my camera when the tiny deer, not much larger than a cat, vanished. She had found a way through the new fences. Will baboons be far behind?

Ask questions and talk about wine on our forum.

Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available as an eBook for the Kindle, iPad and Nook.

A new edition of A I Perold's masterpiece
A Treatise on Viticulture is now available in hardback and softback.

Thanks to Anton Roos and Dave Jefferson, owners of Silkbush Mountain Vineyards for the invitation to visit, and Len Knoetze of Namaqua Wines and the Pinotage Association for hosting my visit to Fryer's Cove vineyards and winery. Peter F May travelled to the vineyards in South Africa at his own expense.

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