Vines and Roses

Vines and Roses

There are good reasons why rose bushes are planted at the end of vine rows, Peter F May was told. But he wasn’t convinced and a vineyard stroll threw new light on the matter.

You’ll have noticed, when you visit wineries, rose bushes planted at the end of each row of vines and you probably wondered why they are there. If you ask you will be told one of the following reasons.

The roses are there as an early warning indicator of disease. If some disorder is about to affect the vines, it will manifest itself first on the leaves of the rose bushes. Forewarned the farm workers will be able to spray an appropriate solution onto the vines and avert disaster.


The bushes are planted at the end of the row because of their thorns. When the strips of soil between the rows are ploughed the horse pulling the plough will be encouraged to make a wide turn to avoid getting scratched by the thorns, thus avoiding hitting the stakes anchoring wires that support the vines and damaging them.

These are both good stories that have the ring of truth about them. And yet …

With our current viticultural skills we don’t need to rely on checking rose bushes for signs of illness, by which time it would be too late for the vines. Viticulturists walk between the vine rows every day, they can use satellite imagery to identify minute changes of colour in vine leaves that could indicate problems and they do preventative spraying based on weather conditions and their own knowledge.

And nowadays few wine farms harness horses to work their vineyards. A rose bush is easier to see from the cab of a tractor than a support wire buried in the soil which thus could indicate to the driver where a turn point is, but a stick would perform the same task.

I think the truth can be easily discovered if one takes a stroll around the property. You’ll soon see that not every row ends with a rosebush. Indeed, entire vineyards in the distance lack a single rose.

The rosebushes are invariably planted at rows that line the winery entrance drive, ring the cark park and face the tasting facility and owners’ house.

The opposite end of those rows lack roses and yet will be just as susceptible to damage from turning horses and tractors, and distant vineyards are just as likely to suffer disease.

In other words, the real reason rose bushes are nowadays planted in vineyards is solely to provide decoration. And there’s no harm in that.

Do you disagree with me? Have you been given a different explanation? Please share with us by clicking on the ‘forum’ button on the right hand edge column of this page.

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.

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