Viticulture is the study of the science of growing grapes, with the ones used to produce wine being the primary focus. It includes the study of vine selection, irrigation styles, planting techniques, pest and disease management, optimal harvesting and more. Anything that can possibly happen to the grape before the wine making process begins is included in viticulture.
Every aspect of growing grapes has a large impact on the quality of the finished wine. People who are involved with viticulture are called viticulturalists, and usually work closely with vineyards and grape growers to ensure the finest grapes which will in turn create the best possible finished wine.
There are a huge number of factors that can effect the growing of grapes, and viticulture seeks to manipulate them in order to produce the best quality grapes in abundant quantities. It all starts with selecting the right vines, since different kinds of grapes produce different types of wines. There are frequently more detailed variations among specific kinds of grapes that affect the subtle differences in taste and quality that are commonly found among different versions of the same type of wine.
Planting techniques also have an effect on how the grapes turn out, meaning the same vine grown under different conditions will produce different grapes. Viticulture looks at factors such as soil type, field placement, sun exposure, the use of vine training systems and other factors. Paired with the knowledge of the qualities desired in the grapes, a viticulturalist can select and implement specific planting techniques in order to attempt to achieve the desired result. For example, the choice of a sloping field over a flat one can optimize the amount of sun the grapevine receives, as well as ensure better air flow to avoid potential freezes. This will have an impact on the balance of sweetness in the harvested grape.
Viticulture also utilizes irrigation to affect grape quality. Irrigation is very important, the grapevines need the proper amount of water to grow properly. Vines that receive too much water will flounder. The grape quality will be adversely affected if heavy rains come too close to harvest time, too. Drainage after watering also needs to be considered, since soil that is saturated for too long can damage the root systems and the vines.
Harvesting techniques can also be used to improve the final result. A technique called green harvesting actually calls for harvesting a number of grapes while they are still tiny and green. It is thought that this allows the vine to have extra energy and resources for the remaining grapes, so that they will be larger and more flavorful, producing better wine.
Another vital aspect of viticulture is pest and disease management. There are numerous insects and other pests that attack grapevines and can ruin the grapes, however pesticides must be used with care. There are also many diseases such as coulure, which can cause the grapes to fall off the vine undeveloped, or various types of rot and mildew. Viticulturalists try to prevent these diseases, and minimize any effects when they do occur in order to preserve as many grapes as possible to be made into wine.