The vine is one of the crops par excellence of our country. Its fruit, the grape, has great economic importance, either for direct consumption or for winemaking. In addition to being a fruit with a sweet and pleasant taste, it is a source of vitamins (provitamin A and vitamin C) and sugars that provide calories and promote the development of antibodies.
A portion of 125 grams of grapes provides approximately 25% of the recommended intake of vitamin C, helping to improve the immune system.
For centuries, the grape has been known for its medicinal properties and many civilizations have used it as a blood purifier and defense stimulant. The skin of red grapes contains resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant that helps delay the aging of cells.
Spain is one of the main grape producing countries. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in the 2018 campaign, grape production for wine and must was 6,673,000 tonnes and 308,000 tonnes for table grapes.
On the other hand, for the 2019 campaign, the surface area of grape vineyards for vinification exceeds 950,000 hectares (5.6% of the total surface area of cultivation at national level). In the case of table grapes, the surface area is around 14,500 hectares.
The Vine and its origins
The vine has its origin in Western Asia and the Caucasus, and has been known since prehistoric times. However, the first references to vines cultivated by man date back to the Neolithic period, to 6,000 BC.
The Egyptians knew the vine, however, it was the Greeks and Romans who developed viticulture most profoundly and expanded cultivation throughout Europe. For their part, the Spanish were the ones who brought the vine to America.
The word ‘vine’ comes from the Latin vitis, which means “a plant that has a lot of life, something climbing”. This Latin word comes from an Indo-European root wei, which means to bend or twist, and the name vitis refers to the tendency of this plant to twist. The vine or vitis belongs to the Vitaceae family, a family of woody plants.
Do you know the differences between table grapes and wine grapes?
Both table grapes and grapes for wine production come from the Vitis vinifera species. They differ from each other through their morphological characteristics, that is to say, the size and shape of the bunches, the thickness of the skin or the number of pips.
Table grapes are a fleshy fruit born from long clusters of round or oval berries. Their skin is stronger and usually presents greenish, yellowish, purple, pink or black colors. Its pulp is juicy and sweet.
Wine grapes, on the other hand, have a juicier skin (thin skin that covers the pulp and grain of the grape), a thinner skin and have a greater capacity to accumulate sugars and other substances. Their usual size is smaller than that of table grapes.
As for the differences in cultivation between table grapes and wine grapes, the former are much more sensitive to frost, so their cultivation areas are in warm climates, which is why the largest extensions of table grapes are found in the Mediterranean.
Table grapes require higher temperatures compared to wine grapes. Therefore, their water requirements are higher in relation to wine grapes.
What are the main varieties of vine?
There are many varieties of grapes. They can be classified into table grapes, raisins and for making must or wine. It is the grapes for wine making that gather the largest number of varieties, since the production of wine is the main use of the vine. In this case we will focus on table and wine grape varieties.
These are varieties intended for fresh consumption. There are three types of table grapes: white, red and black.
- White: the best known are ‘Almeria’, ‘Italy’ or ‘Chasselas’.
- Red: some red varieties are ‘Cardinal’, ‘Chasselas dorée’, ‘Emperor Queen’ and ‘Moscatel roja’.
- Black: ‘Moscatel de Hamburgo’, ‘Alphonse Lavallé’ and ‘Exotic’ are recognised.
Grapes for winemaking
These grapes can be classified into red and white according to the wine they produce.
- Reds: the red varieties include ‘Bobal’, ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’, ‘Embolicaire’, ‘Forcayat’, ‘Garnacha’, ‘Tintorera’, ‘Merlot’, ‘Monastrell’, ‘Tempranillo’ and ‘Pinot Noir’.
- White: the best known are ‘Airén’, ‘Chardonay’, ‘Macabeo’, ‘Malvasía’, ‘Merseguera’, ‘Moscatel’, ‘Planta nova’ and ‘Riesling’.
Main soil and climate requirements for vine cultivation
The ideal temperatures for the cultivation of the vine in its different stages of development are:
- Opening of buds: between 9 and 10 ºC.
- Flowering: between 18 and 22 ºC.
- From flowering to colour change: between 22 and 26 ºC.
- From colour change to ripening: between 20 and 26 ºC.
- Harvest: between 18 and 22 ºC.
With regard to rainfall according to the needs required at each stage:
- During sprouting: Between 14-15 millimeters of water. In this stage there is an intense root activity that is promoted by the rain.
- During flowering: Approximately 10 millimetres. At this stage of its development rain can be dangerous.
- From the flowering to the setting of the fruits. Between 40 and 50 millimetres. Here an intense photosynthesis is necessary.
- Between the fruit setting and ripening: between 80 and 100 millimetres of water is recommended. As in the previous phase, intense photosynthesis is necessary.
- During the harvest: ideally between 0 and 40 millimeters, since rain at this stage is usually harmful.
Water requirements of vine cultivation
Young plants, with a small root system, should be watered much more than mature plants. Likewise, vineyards with root systems damaged by fungi, insects, nematodes, etc., should be watered more frequently to compensate for the reduced absorption capacity of the plants.
The frequency of watering will depend on the stage of the plant. The lack of water during the formation and ripening of the fruits reduces the size of the berries. However, if irrigation is too frequent or excessive near the harvest, it can delay the ripening of the berries or increase the compaction of the bunches, thus favouring their loss of quality and the rotting of the bunches due to the appearance of fungi.
Optimal conditions for growing table grapes
The cultivation of table grapes is best suited to places with low rainfall, as there are stages in their development such as flowering and ripening, when excessive rainfall can be dangerous for the crop. It is recommended to control water inputs, which makes the availability of irrigation essential. The average annual temperature should be between 11-18 ºC. It is also desirable a good sunshine. However, extreme temperatures or heavy spring frosts can affect the production and quality of the bunches.
For vine cultivation, sandy loam soils are recommended and it is tolerant of high levels of active limestone. However, it is sensitive to root asphyxiation, i.e. a process that limits the plant’s ability to breathe through the root and which occurs with an excess of water in the soil.
Optimal conditions for the cultivation of wine grapes
For the production of a good wine, the vine requires sufficient winter cold, spring rains, and sun with moderate heat during the growth and ripening of the fruit in summer.
During the winter, the ideal is very low temperatures, to inhibit growth, thus allowing the vineyard to rest, with frosts to exterminate infections, although not too strong not to damage the crop. It is also recommended to have enough rain to have moisture reserves in the soil.
In spring, the ideal is not too strong rains to help the growth of the vineyard, with a period of mild temperatures during flowering, followed by a hot and sunny summer with little rain to allow the fruit to ripen at that time in growth. The end of summer and beginning of autumn should be short to allow the grapes to finish ripening and harvesting.
Did you know that the drip irrigation system is the most widely used in vine cultivation?
It is the most widespread in vineyards and the one that is giving the best results. The great advantage is that it can be totally automated. In general, two drippers per vine, placed at 15 centimetres from the vine, are sufficient, although it depends on the development of the plant and the permeability of the soil. The working pressure of the drippers is usually 2 bars and their normal flow rate is 4 litres per hour.
The main advantage of drip irrigation is that it can be used on land with irregular topography or on soils with inadequate permeability. With the drip irrigation system, a large amount of water is saved, irrigation efficiency of up to 80% is achieved and the applied irrigation water can be better dosed.
Other advantages of drip irrigation in vine cultivation
There are many advantages to installing a drip irrigation system in the growing of vines.
With this system, infiltration problems are minimized, since by watering drop by drop there is no runoff that is lost by rapid infiltration. Evaporation losses are also reduced.
Drip irrigation minimizes the occurrence of fungal diseases due to a reduction of humidity in the aerial part of the plant and in the environment. Flooding and sprinkling are systems that produce favorable conditions for the development of fungal diseases.
Drip irrigation does not interfere with the rest of the work carried out in the crop, such as mechanized harvesting. The machinery can be used during irrigation.
Another advantage is that drip irrigation allows the necessary nutrients of the vine to be distributed and applied in the optimum doses and moments already dissolved in water, so they are more effective and localized. This also allows for savings in fetilizers.
The installation costs of drip irrigation are minimal and compared to other irrigation systems are more economical. In addition, the cost of pumping is lower, as the drip irrigation system can work at much lower pressure than other mechanisms.
Drip irrigation reduces the appearance of weeds, as the wet soil surface is smaller and also prevents soil erosion, while maintaining water availability in the soil. All these advantages are exponentially increased by using underground irrigation technology.