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Ask the Advisor, Roses in the Vineyards

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Ask The Advisor

Have a wine related question? "Ask the Advisor" is our feature where you can have your burning wine questions answered.  We plan to tackle a broad range of subjects from food and wine pairing to the pros and cons of wild yeast fermentation. No question is too simple (we like those because they are easier to answer) and if you have a tough one we can't answer it we will either punt, call in for industry reinforcements or go back to Fresno State.

Send questions to: TheAdvisor@CaliforniaWineryAdvisor.com

Question

I live in the California Central Valley, close to Lodi, and I have a question that I believe you may be able to answer for me.  Why are there rose bushes of different colors planted at the end of each row of grapevines I've seen locally.  Is this a folklore-type thing or does is have some functional agricultural purpose?  It's been driving me crazy since I moved here a year ago.  Being a native of L.A. I don't have much in the way of farming knowledge stored up.  So if you could please enlighten me, I'd very much appreciate it.  Thank you for your time and have a great day!

Sincerely, Adrienne

Answer

 

Good Question Adrienne, thanks for asking.

"A Rose is a rose is a rose," as on Gertrude Stein postulated as part of her 1913 poem Sacred Emily, interpreted as meaning "things are what they are,". But in a vineyard a rose bush is more than just a pretty piece of visual poetry. It has a job to do. 

According to Cher Lim both roses and grape vines are susceptible to some of the same diseases. Indeed, roses act as early warning of mildew which is a fungal disease. There are two main kinds of mildews: Powdery mildew (Oidium) which develops on all green parts of the vine. We can see white powdery growth of spores on the surfaces. If this mildew sets on the grapes, the fruit will not grow properly and will eventually split and rot. This fungus likes warm and shady environment and does not need a damp condition to survive.

The second deadly mildew is called Downy mildew which was brought over from American to Europe in the 19th century. It attacks all the green parts of the vine and leave behind patches of oily stains on the surface. Once attacked, the leaves will drop and photosynthesis inhibited. This fungus likes damp condition unlike that of Oidium.

Both fungus diseases can be treated by sprays of sulphur (for powdery mildew) and copper sulphate + lime solution (for downy mildew) once detected. Rose bushes help the vineyard team to catch sights of the fungus disease in its early stage to apply the proper treatment.

That being said, many a vineyard manager would smile at this quaint romantic notion. Their job is a wee bit more sophisticated than watching the roses bloom. The winery tour guide may repeat this story as well, but if pressed may also include that, they sure do look pretty. 

Chris Cameron, winemaker at Broken Earth Winery in Paso Robles has weighed in from a story he heard in his native Austrailia....

Another note to your question on roses in the vineyard......some time ago in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales (hometown) I quizzed one of the "old timers" in the area about the same issue. His response left me wondering whether or not he was "having a lend of me"....or not.

In the early days of grapegrowing there, before any mechanisation, the vineyard work was completed using horses and horse pulled equipment (ploughs etc.) and the best source of strong "draught horses" were the local coalmines where any pulling work involved horses.

Sadly the distance underground was so far that the horses used were stabled in areas deep underground and, while they were very well cared for, their eyesight eventually became a casualty of the environment. The period horses were kept underground was mercifully short but permanent damage to their vision occurred. As the horses were "traded out" the local farmers and grapegrowers sought to utilise their great strength and stamina, particularly working with ploughs in vineyards where the rows were quite narrow.

Now the reason for the roses at the ends of the rows, as explained by this particular veteran, was to let the 'blind' horses know when they reached the end and it was time to turn. Roses in that area constantly bloom almost all year. I was never able to convince myself either way with his story, Australians can be very straight-faced when "spinning a yarn". I will leave it up to you to decide.


Cheers,
Chris

CHRIS CAMERON
Winemaker/Operations Manager

So, there you have it. And if your in the mood have a glass of wine (a rosé?) and contemplate Stein's, things are what they are.

Have a question for the Advisor?  Just ask...TheAdvisor@CaliforniaWineryAdvisor.com

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