Roses: Fact or Fiction?


It’s depressing when my friends travel more than I do! Jarlene and Dick spent a week in the Central Coast of California with one of their daughters and sons-in-law. They have lots more to share, but decided to give me this little tidbit about roses (as in the flower, not the wine) and their almost ubiquitous presence at the end of each vineyard row!  Enjoy!

Why Roses?

First, the silliest reason was created by the Aussies:

“In the early days of grape growing there, before any mechanisation, the vineyard work was completed using horses and horse pulled equipment (ploughs etc.) and the best source of strong “draught horses” were the local coalmines where any pulling work involved horses.

Sadly the distance underground was so far that the horses used were stabled in areas deep underground and, while they were very well cared for, their eyesight eventually became a casualty of the environment. As the horses were “traded out” the local farmers and grape growers sought to utilize their great strength and stamina, particularly working with ploughs in vineyards where the rows were quite narrow.”

Now the reason for the roses at the ends of the rows, as explained by this particular veteran, was to let the ‘blind’ horses know when they reached the end and it was time to turn. Roses in that area constantly bloom almost all year. I was never able to convince myself either way with his story; Australians can be very straight-faced when “spinning a yarn.” I will leave it up to you to decide.


A more rational reason was that it was an “Early Warning” system to prevent mold: Grape vines are susceptible to Powdery mildew (Oidium) that develops on all green parts of the vine. We can see the white powdery growth of spores on the surfaces. If this mildew sets on the grapes, the fruit will not grow properly and will eventually split and rot.

The second deadly mildew is called Downy mildew. It attacks all the green parts of the vine and leaves behind patches of oily stains on the surface. Once attacked, the leaves will drop and photosynthesis is inhibited. This fungus likes damp conditions unlike that of Oidium.

Unfortunately, the Powdery Mildew occurs first on the vines and the Downy occurs well after, so the rose warning is too late.

So this is a great idea in concept but there are two distinct types of mold!

That being said, many a vineyard manager would smile at this quaint romantic notion. Their job is more sophisticated than watching the roses bloom. In these days of modern technology roses are planted at the rows end for purely cosmetic reasons, but don’t let that spoil another great story…

Fact: They just look pretty and people enjoy how they look.

Why Wildflowers?


So we asked winery owner Nan Helgeland, and she gave us a detailed explanation of the various insects that were actually beneficial to the vines. Most beneficial insects, those that prey on pests or help pollinate, have adapted alongside native plants, so it stands to reason that native plants in and around an orchard or vineyard will attract those insects.

Her operation is 100% biodynamic, so this is just another step in the operation to avoid traditional pesticides. She is very cognizant of keeping only plants that contribute to the land and its regeneration.

Glassy-winged Sharpshooter
Glassy-winged Sharpshooter

She pointed out another very relevant fact – Vineyards and wineries should avoid landscaping with certain plants, including olive, citrus, roses, photinia, and other key reproductive hosts. I later found out that a fairly new variation of leafhopper called the “Glassy-winged Green Sharpshooter” has appeared in select areas of Los Olivos.

At a Wine Tasting Room shortly after our in-depth education we pointed out the roses to our tour guide who gave us the stock answer about mold and my wife proudly gave her the benefit of our recent findings, after which the guide said she appreciated the information and did not want to give future guests information they may correct her on.

Richard R.
Richard R.
Richard is a Sommelier who, along with his wife Jarlene, is a regular visitor to California's many wine regions, including those you've never heard of! He's also an aficionado of wines that are off the beaten path.


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