La Vitis vinifera is the vine species to which the so-called wine vine although wine is actually made in some areas of the world from other vine species that are better adapted to the soil and climate environment. Vitis vinifera is the most cultivated vine species in the world and its fruit - the grape - is used to produce wine, juice and dried fruit, while its leaves and shoots are used for cosmetics, medicine and even as natural dyes.

Vitis vinifera: areal

Where is Vitis vinifera grown?

Vitis vinifera is mainly cultivated in warm, temperate climate regions with hot summers and mild winters. This plant is sensitive to low temperatures and needs sufficient water to grow and produce quality grapes. Vitis vinifera is cultivated in many countries around the world, particularly in Europe, North America, South America and Oceania. In Europe, the main cultivation areas are Italy, France and Spain, but - from a quality point of view - Germany, Hungary and Portugal are also very important. In North America, Californian production stands out, although the states of Washington, New York and Oregon are developing fast with very interesting results. In Oceania, both Australia and New Zealand produce wines of great quality. Finally in Africa, South African wines are of particular value, but also the Lebanese wine is attracting the interest of the international market.

The grapevine in Europe

The ideal growing area for Vitis vinifera in Europe is bordered to the south by the Mediterranean Sea and to the north by the Loire River, however - thanks to global warming - it is also cultivated in the south of England with interesting results. While to the west it is cultivated throughout Portugal, to the east the border is demarcated by a small portion of European Russia, although it includes the entire southern part of the former Soviet Union.

Vitis vinifera: the importance of light in defining its habitat

The vine is a heliophilous plant (or photophilic), i.e. sun-loving. In practice, Vitis vinifera needs direct sun exposure for a certain number of hours/day in order to have a correct annual, productive and vegetative cycle. The element that defines its habitat is therefore latitude, i.e. the distance of the area from the equator (which is 0°). What is particularly interesting is that while low latitudes have an ideal inclination of the sun's rays for ripening purposes, the lower inclination of the sun's rays at high latitudes is compensated for by the lengthening of the daily photoperiod, i.e. the hours of light/day. This, in combination with the increase in global temperature, has meant that the vine, in some areas, is also successfully cultivated beyond the 50th parallel.

Vitis vinifera: plant description

Vitis vinifera is a climbing plant with very long roots which serve to anchor the plant to the soil and obtain everything it needs for growth and fruiting. If, due to a long drought, the soil becomes very dry, the roots go down to a depth of almost 6 metres to find water and nutrients.

Vitis vinifera: the leaf

The vine leaf is palmate, almost always asymmetrical and with a number of lobes ranging from 3 to 9, most commonly 3 to 5. In its description, one often reads 'orbicular shape', a term mostly used in scientific language to indicate a shape tending towards a circle, but which cannot be defined as circular. The edge of the leaf - also called the margin - is irregular, almost always toothed. The point where the leaf connects to the petiole forms an indentation - called the petiolar sinus - that can take various shapes (U, V and lyre) with the edges that can be distant or overlapping (this is called an aperture).

For example, a leaf can be described as follows:

The Nero d'Avola vine has a leaf Large, orbicular and entire with a dull dark green upper page and a light green lower page. It has irregular, poorly pronounced teeth with irregular, broad-based margins.

Vitis vinifera vine nero d'Avola

Vitis vinifera: the flower

The vine has green hermaphrodite flowers in elongated panicles that are erect at an early stage and then become pendulous as the flowers grow. They are not usually described in the vine's characteristics as they are less characterising for its recognition.

Vitis vinifera: the fruit

The fruit of the vine is a berry called berry with a colour that can be 'white berry' (with a colour varying from green to deep yellow), 'grey/pink berry' (with a colour varying from greyish to pinkish) and 'black berry' (with a colour varying from purplish red to bluish). Starting from the same grape variety, different coloured bunches are obtained depending on the soil and climatic environment and in particular on the lighting conditions.

The shape and development of the bunch varies depending on the grape variety, the growing environment and the nutrient supply. In general, a cluster can be pyramidal, conical or cylindrical in shape. The development, i.e. length and weight, can vary from less than 10 cm and 100 g (Picolit) to more than 30 cm and 1.5 kg (Trebbiano Toscano).

The berries are spherical, subspherical, ovoid, elliptical or ellipsoid in shape.

For example, a cluster can be described as follows:

The Nero d'Avola cluster is medium, conical, single-winged and large. Its acines are medium-sized, regular ellipsoid or oval in shape and have a bluish skin. 

Vitis vinifera vine nero d'Avola bunch

Vine life cycle

Once Vitis vinifera plants are planted in the vineyard, they are unproductive for the first 2-3 years. This period serves to prepare them for their peak productivity phase, which, depending on the grape variety, training system and climatic conditions, lasts up to 20-25 years. Once this age has passed, the vine plants begin their old age and become even more interesting for quality-oriented production: in fact, during this period, while they produce less fruit, it is of better quality.

During their peak productivity phase, vines can have a high and constant productivity (Trebbiano, Montepulciano...) or a low and irregular productivity (Nebbiolo, Picolit...). Grape varieties with a high productivity require more control by the winegrower as a higher number of bunches per vine gives less extractive grapes. This is because the amount of nutrients, necessary to enrich the berries, available to each plant annually is limited. So, assuming a number of nutrients equal to 10 (100%), it is one thing to divide this number by 1 cluster (10 nutrients, 100% for its berries), 2 clusters (each has 5 nutrients available, 50% for its berries) or 4 clusters (each has 2.5 nutrients available, 25% for its berries).

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Vitis vinifera: annual cycle of the vine

During the year, the vine fulfils two parallel sub-cycles: the vegetative and the productive cycle.

Vegetative sub-cycle

The vegetative sub-cycle of Vitis vinifera begins in March, when the soil warms up. The sap flows up the trunk of the vine plant and a few droplets of the same sap emerge from the places where pruning was carried out (= weeping of the vine).

The sprouting takes place between March and April, when the ready buds open, leaflets form and shoots grow. If the weather is sunny and warm during this period, the vine grows steadily and resists pest attacks more easily. If, on the other hand, the weather is unstable and sudden drops in temperature occur, the younger (and therefore weaker) shoots may die. It is understood that where the winter cold has caused damage, some buds may not sprout directly.

L'agostamento takes place in summer, when leaves grow and new shoots develop. These mature in August when processed substances are stored as reserves for the plant, partly due to the fact that root activity is minimal at this time. The shoots then turn brown and woody in a slow process that lasts until the end of November.

La defoliation occurs between the end of November and the beginning of December when the resting phase begins.

Production sub-cycle

Between April and May, the first bunches are formed while the differentiation of pollen and ovules for fertilisation begins. The production sub-cycle of Vitis vinifera Consists in the flowering, fruit set and veraison of hibernating gems differentiated the previous year.

La flowering takes place from mid-May to June. During this period, the stems are loaded with inflorescences, but the actual opening of the flowers and their fertilisation can be hindered by cold and wind if the weather is not optimal. If fertilisation is imperfect, berries without seeds are born, cluster millerandage develops and some berries remain unripe.

L'fruit set takes place in June and is the initial phase of fruit development following flowering. During this period, the plant decides which flowers will be transformed into fruit and, if everything goes well, due to the hormonal impulses sent by the grape seeds, the cells of the berries multiply and increase in both weight and volume. During fruit set, the berries are still green and very hard.

Allegagione vite vitis vinifera

L'veraison takes place between mid-July and mid-August and consists of the ripening of the berries. During this period, the berry swells, accumulates water, concentrates the sugars and extractives in the pulp and colours the skin yellow or blue. Ripening then ends between mid-August and the end of October, depending on the grape varieties, which can be early (pinot, chardonnay...) or late (barbera, cabernet sauvignon, cannonau, nero d'Avola, nebbiolo...).

Conclusion

Vitis vinifera is an extraordinary plant with a long and fascinating history that has made it a fundamental component of the food and wine tradition of all countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Learning to describe and recognise it, as well as understanding its life and annual cycle, are the first steps to understanding a wine. This is because a small, rare bunch of picolit will never be treated in the same way as a large, abundant bunch of trebbiano and the wines made from them will also be significantly different. However, even if the winemaking processes were identical, it would be precisely these intrinsic characteristics that would give wines with clearly recognisable traits.

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