A healthy vineyard isn’t a uniform thing – they all look different. Zinfandel vines are stocky and almost tree-like, while Riesling vines are more slender and wispy looking. The ground doesn’t always look the same either, and nor do the leaves; it doesn’t have to look good, either.

That doesn’t mean it takes a doctor or scientist to tell if a hillside is healthy. With a slightly discerning eye, any wine lover can see if a vineyard is thriving or struggling. Here are some ways to tell how healthy a vineyard is.

What matters is other things, not just the vines themselves.

The ground

If you see well-cared for, spotless grass or soil between the vine rows, then you might think it looks nice and neat, but it could be a sign of intense pesticide and herbicide use.

Some vineyards use lots of weedkiller to rid the vines of their competition and while it’s legal, it’s certainly not organic. It’s actually an outdated mindset to want to rid the vineyard of all its plants, as they don’t affect the vines or the wine at all.

In fact, vineyards with lots of mixed plants all over the place are a good thing, as these other plants encourage biodiversity and bring different nutrients to the soil.

The general environment

So, the ground can tell you a lot about how the vineyard is managed and treated; so can the rest of the place. Look wildflowers and insects – this is a balanced, healthy ecosystem. You should also look for earthworms, butterflies, small birds and even larger birds like chickens and even hawks. Birds are a great way of keeping pest insects and small mammals down without spraying the place with nasty compounds.

Have a closer look

Look at the leaves on the vines – healthy leaves should be around the size of an outstretched adult hand, dark green and smooth. If there’s a lot of discoloration, holes, dry leaves and lighter-colored spots, there may be nutrient problems or pest insects like caterpillars. Dried out or curled up leaves means disease or poor watering protocol.

A vineyard isn’t serving the purpose of a golf course, so it certainly doesn’t need to look like one!