Warm summer evenings encourage wandering through the country lanes and villages of SW France. All the senses are engaged: the heat of the sun on a bare arm, the sound of crickets and birds in the fields, the rich colours and patterns of the landscape, the smell of late summer in the air and, with no one looking, the already sweet taste of the ripening dark merlot grapes on the vines.
Roses, their beauty fading in the late summer heat, still bloom and tumble over fences and catch my eye as I walk by.
Roses also stand guard like sentries at the end of vineyard rows, perhaps planted to act as an early warning of any plant diseases that could affect the vines. Roses typically require the same type of soil and have similar sunshine requirements as vines. Roses and grapevines are also both prone to powdery mildew (oidium) yet roses are more susceptible to this disease than vines. An outbreak of powdery mildew on the roses planted at the end of the row of vines can alert the vine grower of potential trouble for the vines. In this way, roses perform a role similar to the traditional “canary in the coal mine”.
In discussion with several wine makers, I discover that not everyone is convinced that roses are the best early indicator of mildew disease. One wine maker I talk to thinks that oak leaves are more reliable; if the oak leaves on trees at the edge of his vineyards turn grey, he is on the alert for mildew.
Another wine maker I talk to assures me that using roses to identify mildew is a technique from another century! Many wine makers see roses in the vineyards as purely decorative and that a more sophisticated use of science has overtaken the traditional and somewhat romanticized role of roses.
Risk management models have now been developed to anticipate the possibility of mildew on the vines. This is business language I relate to. In pursuing this further, I discover that the website for the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of British Columbia has a comprehensive description of the two major types of mildew and references the risk management model developed by the University of California, Davis Campus. I provide the link below for those interested in reading more. The roses in our garden always seem very healthy. Yet, perhaps I can apply the principles to anticipating mildew on them. A topic for another day and further thought.
I am always amazed how writing about wine and related subjects opens doors to other topics. Thinking about roses and wine leads me to switch the words around and think about wine and roses. Doesn’t that ring a bell?
A little bit of googling leads me to the 1962 Blake Edwards sad and dramatic film, The Days of Wine and Roses starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick with the music of Henry Mancini. Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s theme song won an Oscar and the film received four other Oscar nominations. Little is recalled today of the poet who wrote his poem, Vitae Summa Brevis Spem nos Vetet Inchoate Longam, in English thankfully, and in it coined the phrase “the days of wine and roses” which infers a period of happiness and prosperity. Ernest Dowson, (1867 – 1900) an English, Oxford University educated poet wrote this poem in 1896. His call to action is powerful as he cautions us: “ They are not long, the days of wine and roses.”
I reflect on this after my walk among the vineyards as I enjoy a glass of award winning Chateau Court Les Muts ” L’Oracle”, one of their best red wines with black berry, white pepper overtones in a blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Early warning signal or decorative pleasure, the vineyard roses enhance the wine experience, even as they start to shed their now early autumn petals.
http://www.wineserver.ucdavis.edu University of California, Davis Campus Viticulture and Enology, and site regarding Integrated Pest Management.
http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca : Ministry of Agriculture, Grape Diseases, Powdery Mildew (Uncinula necator)
http://www.court-les-muts.com Chateau Court Les Muts
The Days of Wine and Roses film: see wikipedia.org.
Henry Mancini composer www.henrymancini.com
Ernest Dowson poet: many sites, including wikipedia and poem hunter including a reading by Richard Burton on YouTube