European Viticulture Tour.

Part 1.

Switzerland & France.


In the spring of 2007 and then again in 2011, Lex Thomson and Franzi Grab from The Viticulture Practice Ltd. toured some of the wine regions of Europe to observe the old world viticulture and winemaking practices and compare them with New Zealand viticulture. A specific interest was the study of alternative white wine grape varieties such as Arneis from Piedemonte in Italy and Gruner veltliner from Austria.

The regions visited were Valais, Aargau and Zurich in Switzerland; Alsace, Burgundy and the Rhone Valley in France; Tuscany and Piedemont in Italy and, In Austria, the Wachau Valley and the Weinviertel region on the Czech border. During their travels Lex and Franzi had the opportunity to meet and talk with a number of Viticulturists and winemakers. These included Walter Fromm at Vignano an organic winery in Tuscany; Dr Franco Weibel at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture in Basel, Switzerland; Patrick Essa & Catherine Essa Buisson at Buisson-Charles in Meursault, Cote de Beaune; Dominique Grangeon at Domaine de Crista at Chateauneuf-du-Pape and DI Franz Regner, viticulture consultant in Austria

Photographs, comments and observations from the study tours are detailed below.



A hillside vineyard in the Valais region.

Wine grapes are grown throughout Switzerland with the white grape Chasselas, and Pinot noir being the main varieties. However in many cantons production is low, disease incidence is high and the fruit can struggle to achive adequate ripness.

The steep, south facing hillsides, of the Valais region in the foothills of the alps (the source of the Rhone river), grow some of Switzerland's best wines. Varieties include Blauburgunder (Pinot noir), Gamay, Chasselas and Petite Arvine along with a number of other rare varieties.


vine library

Franzi and Ernst Grab at the vine library in Zurich.


g vee

Gruner Veltliner. An up and coming variety in the new world.


frick The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture at Frick, near Basel is doing intensive investigation into disease resistant varieties.
kerner Studies at the Institute include cultivation of heritage varieties and the breeding of hybrids that are resistant to Botrytis, Downy Mildew and Powdery Mildew.




The wine region of Alsace renown for the production of aromatic wines from the noble grapes: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot gris and Pinot blanc. The province occupies a valley along side the Rhine near the border of France and Germany.

The vineyard region occupies the foot hills of the Vosges mountains. Grand Cru vineyards occupy the east and south facing slopes while the less distinguished wines are grown on the valley floor.

The region has high sunshine hours and low rainfall. Long dry autumns with extended "hang time"can produce outstanding wines. Alsace has been described as having a mosaic of soil types; these range from volcanic soils in the South-West, marl and limestone and sandstone are found further north and clay soils with granite parent material are wide spread.

The challenge to the Alsatian viticulturist is to match the different terroirs with grape variety.



The majority of vines are bilateral pruned arched canes with the bottom fruiting wire at 900mm. Usual vine spacing is1.4m and interrow is 2.2m. The understory is either culivated or sprayed out with alternated rows grassed down.

Canopies are small and consequently trellis systems are not as robust as those found in New Zealand.




The Cote d Or is an east facing ridge that lies south of the city of Dijon. Here are grown some of the greatest wines in the world. Pinot noir is grown in the Cote de Nuits, north of Beaune township. Chardonnay and some Pinot noir also is grown on the Cote de Beaune to the south.

Vineyards with Grand Cru and Premier Cru appellation are located on the slopes while less distiguished wines are grown on the alluvial flats on the valley floor.

Soils on the ridges vary in composition but principle components are colluvial limestone, marlstone and Kimmeridgean clays. Climate is continental.


Vines are intensively planted (1 x 1 m). VSP is the usual training system.


Variation in soil type within a single vineyard are shown in these samples from Chateau de Pommard.

tractor Intensive plantings require specialised equipment: an over row stradling tractor.


Virus affected vines are found throughout the

rhone Paul Jaboulet vineyard on the hill at Tain-Hermitage.

The Rhone Valley.

The Rhone Valley comprises two distinct sub regions: the steep hills of the northern Rhone and the Rhone delta in the south. The north is wetter than the south, with mean rainfall of 840mm compared to the southern Rhone's 610 mm, and is also slightly cooler. There is aproximatly a 100m difference in altitude between the two regions.

Syrah is the main variety grown in the north and the region produces the famed red wines Crozes Hermitage and Cote Rotie. White varieties Viognier, Massanne and Roussane are also grown. The region's soils feature mica and schist from granite parent material along with zones where limestone is incorporated into the profile also.

stonesBush trained vine at the vineyard of Domaine de Christia in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Note the heat absorbing rocks (Galets) that are characteristic of the region.

loess Loess and rocks make up another of the soil types of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.


wine Domaine de Cristia is typical of the family producers in the region;producing a range of wines at various price points, including a white Rhone style made from Grenache blanc.

Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre are the predominant varieties grown in Chateauneuf-du-pape and the surrounding appelations in the southern Rhone. Blends of these three grapes create the distinctive red wine of the region. Other red varieties suchas Cinsault and Counoise are sometimes used to round out the blend.

Grenache blanc and Roussane are used to make white Rhone and Rose is made throughout the region.

Soils are a combination of loess and rocks or often just rocks. Summer temperatures can be high and in some cases North facing slopes are planted to avoid excessive ripening.

The traditional bush vine training system is retained in the majority of vineyards.


┬ęThe Viticulture Practice Ltd. 2011