Amongst all of those typical wine words that tend to get thrown around, you often hear references to trellised vines vs bushvines and talk about un-irrigated vineyards. It is fairly straightforward to understand what these terms mean, but what relevance do they actually have to the wine at the end of the day?

Here’s a quick, simple look at The Beacon Shiraz, one of our premium single vineyard wines, which provides a bit of insight into an aspect of why this is important.

The role of good ol’ H two O

Plants need water to survive and vines are no exception, although they are particularly hardy once they’re established and can survive on very little moisture. Fruit on a vine shows that the plant is healthy and happy and, in a simple sense, the more fruit the happier it is. But grape growers prefer to have their vines struggle a little bit and you often hear this spoken about when vineyard sites are selected. If the conditions are tougher, the wine often ends up more expressive.

Irrigation is used in many of South Africa’s vineyards, especially in drier areas. Most premium wine grape growers prefer not to irrigate wherever possible but sometimes a small amount is necessary. Farming and managing a vineyard is very expensive and so in order to make wine at an affordable price point, producers need to ensure that their vineyards yield enough grapes. Irrigation can help to maintain crop levels at an economic level. The soils in some vineyards allow dryland (unirrigated) farming, while some of the faster draining soils don’t retain very much of the winter rain and require a little top up during the warm Cape summers.

Vine on a wire?

Harvesting Viognier from a trellised vine

Trellising is simply the way that grapes are trained to a wire in a vineyard. There are a number of different trellis types and when you drive through the winelands you will usually see neat rows of trellised vines. Trellising helps the farmer to manage the vineyard better. The leaf canopy can be managed to ensure that the vines receive the right amount of light and that the wind is allowed to flow between them which helps to prevent diseases. Trellising also creates a uniform height at which the grape bunches grow, making harvesting and maintenance easier on the back!

The Beacon Shiraz bushvine ready for harvest

A bushvine is simply one that is not traditionally trellised. It is allowed to grow in a fairly natural way. These vines tend to be smaller and lower to the ground. Bushvines also tend to be be lower yielding. They don’t produce as much fruit as a trellised vine. They are also more physically demanding to work with, being low to the ground and more time consuming to manage. The use of machinery in an untrellised vineyard is also much more limited than in a trellised one.

That may be interesting to you (or not!) but so what? What difference does dryland bushvine viticulture actually have on the grapes that will ultimately be turned into wine?

In a nutshell: smaller bunches, smaller berries, thicker skins and more ‘skin to juice’. The colour, tannin and most of the flavour is in the skins of the grapes, so when making premium wines this can be desirable. These pictures illustrate this very well.

1 – The Beacon Shiraz: Unirrigated bushvine grown on rocky, shale soils

2 – Shiraz from Fairview farm in Paarl: limited drip irrigation and grown on decomposed granite soils.

3 – Shiraz from our Paarl vineyard: Limited drip irrigation and grown on sandier soils.

Bunch length

Bunch weight

Berry weight

The result is grapes that will usually create wines in a more serious style. Bolder, complex wines with extraction and tannin (from the skins) and concentrated flavours. This will also depend on how the winemaker works with the grapes, but that is for another post! Of course these serious wines are not necessarily to everyone’s taste, which is why we produce wines in a range of styles. But it does give an indication of the importance of the vineyards to the final wine, and the impact of viticultural decisions on the cost of production.

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1 Comment on Dryland bushvines? So what?

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by lovewinelife, Richard Saxton, francette marais, Fairview Wine, Fairview Wine and others. Fairview Wine said: Bushvine? Trellised vine? How does this affect the actual grapes? A simple overview (with pics!) [...]

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