Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rhone Valley Viticulture

By Richard McGeachy

Of the places I visited in Europe the Northern Rhone Valley had the most similarities with McLaren Vale – well the varieties anyway! The only red variety grown is Shiraz (50% of MV) and the white varieties were Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne (all grown in relatively small amounts in MV).

Most of the vineyards are on the slopes above the Rhone river with the various appellations spread along the either side. The vine/row spacing 1 metre x 1 metre, like Burgundy. As is the case throughout France – the vines are dry grown as irrigation is illegal.

The majority of the terrain in the Rhone is bordering on insane to grow grapes on by Australia standards. The slopes in Côte-Rôtie particularly are extremely steep and most cannot be worked a conventional tractor.

A lot of the work is carried out by hand or with equipment being towed up the slope on a cable and guided by the grower – particularly soil work.

The simple act of applying sulphur is carried out using backpack sprayers or by small tracked vehicles being walked by the grower.
Above - A caterpillar tracked fungicide unit.

Small tracked vehicles were also used extensively, due to the grip, low centre of gravity and compact size.

Terracing is used extensively to overcome the slopes, this photo (below) is looking northward towards Côte-Rôtie from Condrieu.

This photo is above Tain-l’Hermitage below the Chapel on a west facing slope. Also note the iron deficiency showing in the tips. It was common in this soils – I doubt it was corrected when they were applying fungicides and fertigation is obviously not an option.

An organic vineyard I visited used a small excavator to perform the weeding. The grower would drive along each terrace and reach between the vines with a hooked blade on the head.

The maintenance of the terrace walls can growers 2-3 months over the winter months. Given that most growers don’t have much more than 6 hectares it gives you some idea of the labor involved.

Interestingly the flats beside the river were used for an array of vegetables and green houses (below).

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