Before 1850, the vineyard looked like a mushroom forest
Valais viticulture for a long time followed its own rules. Older documents indicate that there were not always stakes and that many vines grew beyond their supports. The systems used for replanting vines (using versannes; provignage – tip-layering; and layering) gave vineyards a completely different look from today’s. Grape varieties were mixed together, plants were not aligned and the density of planting was very high - up to 30,000 vines per hectare (three to four times as dense as today)! Introducing stakes
The fight against phylloxera began in the 1850s, at the same time that Fendant was planted; the changes brought about new rules that resulted in vineyards looking like they do today. It was the end of complanting different varieties and the start of single-grape plantings. Fendant required Vaud-style pruning - the gobelet system, which needs stakes. Valais growers planted millions of these between 1860 and 1960.
The art of mid-height
After the second world war people sought new means of working vineyards more efficiently. The single-cane pruning system sees great success. A single cane replaces the four of a gobelet style vine; it demands less leaf work. About the same time, the “high cultivation” method, imported from Austria, caught the interest of many growers but there were fears that the suddenly elevated vines would slow down ripening of the grapes and increase acidity to an unwelcome level. Several intermediate systems were offered. “Mid-height trellised vines” were often grown across the slope on hillsides, simplifying the use of machines for vineyards in Valais. The density of plantings stabilized at around 7,000 to 10,000 vines, with a permanent cordon or an annual cordon at 50 to 80 cm from the ground. With a few variations, this trellised cultivation is now one of the most widespread training methods in the world.
Source: Histoire de la Vigne et du Vin en Valais, «La culture de la vigne à la mode valaisanne», by Jean-Louis Simon, agricultural engineer.