Here is how wine experts protect their grape vines from extreme weathers

Looking after the grapes in bad weather
Looking after the grapes in bad weather

Colin Burbidge, of Lancashire Wine School, writes about protecting wine crops from the natural elements.

Recent news about the Greek island of Santorini having unprecedented levels of rainfall this year, and how it affects wine quality and production, reminded me the lengths viniculturalists go to in protecting their vines from nature’s worst.

In order to cope with Santorini’s near desert conditions, and often high hot winds, grape vines are trained to grow in a low circle looking like a basket called a koulouri.

This protects the grapes from the drying effect of the hot winds that blow across this volcanic island.

Excessive rain however can lead to mildew, which is more easily treated in a traditional trellis system with the twisted basket vine being hard to get at.

Over in Lanzarote semi-circle walls are used to enclose low bush vines in such a way that they trap nutrition-rich sands from the Sahara.

A covering of crushed volcanic rock called picon traps oceanic moisture in the air, releasing it into the soil and preventing evaporation – ingenious.

In Portugal the desperate need to provide home grown food meant that neat rows of vines taking up precious food producing land was prohibited. Here vines were trained on high trellises, or even up telegraph poles, to keep ground free for other purposes.

This was not true however in Douro Valley, where the extremely hard volcanic schist grows little else than vines.

Here the steep mountains on either side of the valley need to be terraced to make them workable.

The volcanic schist is unlikely to yield to any tool man can wield by hand so TNT was the favoured method to fashion the terraces.

Here vines sink their roots through tiny cracks in the rock to seek rare water supplies in an area that regularly reaches the high 30s in summer.

In the wine world conventional wisdom says that 30-50 degrees latitude is the place to produce wine, giving the ideal climate.

But, even here, temperatures can be too high for quality wine.

Here high altitude offers cooling relief from normally high temperatures.

Mendoza provides such relief for the famous Argentine wines, even though Argentina lies within 30-50 latitudes.

Myanmar lies most definitely outside this range, but is now producing sauvignon blanc and syrah wines at 1,000 metres.

The Guinness Book of Records cites the highest vineyard is in Tibet at over 3,500 metres.

If you think raising vines in world-leading France is a gentle easy pursuit, spare a thought for producers in northern Rhone, where efforts to produce wine must overcome brisk Mistral blowing down steep sided valleys, wooden stakes holding the vines in place.

Or, in famous Bordeaux, where summer hail can strip vine leaves from the plant, preventing all important photosynthesis required for sugars in the grapes. Not to mention mildews, viruses and vine pests.

So, next time you settle to enjoy a glass of your favourite wine, spare a thought for battles won to get those healthy ripe grapes in one piece to the winery.