Many words connected with viticulture are of French origin, as might be expected considering that it is a land where the wine industry is such a source of wealth. The term "cepage " (pronounced say-pazh) is one of these, and it possesses quite a distinctive and particular significance, so that a little explanation is necessary. The vine family is divided into several species, of which the ordinary grape vine, Vitis Vinifera, is the most important. Of the Vitis Vinifera there are many, more or less distinct, sorts of "cepages"; and the value of the word lies in the fact that it serves as a means of distinguishing all these different varieties. Originally a native of Asia Minor, there are now over a thousand sorts of European vines. Of these quite a number are already cultivated in Australia, and a brief reference to a few will help to a better understanding of the term " cepage."
Of the red grapes the following may be instanced: - The Carbenet (pronounced Car/-ben-ay); of which there are two varieties, the gros or large, and the sauoignon or smaller kind. The latter is perhaps the choicest of all the red wine grapes, and has a characteristic flavour, with delicious bouquet and perfume. It forms the basis of all the best vineyards of Bordeaux, and is largely cultivated in Australia, for it does well in the cooler parts. And it will be just as well to take this opportunity of referring to the word "Carbenet," as in Australia it is much too often erroneously spelt "Cabernet." The best authorities, however, are all in favour of "Carbenet" as the proper mode of spelling. In the same way an unfortunate orthography in the case of Riesling, which was given as "Reisling" in the London Exhibition of 1886, gave a writer in the Saturday Review the opportunity of a tirade against Australian wine-makers.
The Pinot (pronounced Peen'-o) Noir or Noirier will serve excellently to demonstrate the significance of the word "cepage." This is the dominating grape of the best vineyards of Burgundy, and enters into the composition of many famous wines, such as Romanee-Conti Cham-bertin, Corton, etc.; just as the Carbenet Sauvignon belongs to the renowned clarets of Bordeaux, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Lafitte, and Chateau Latour. This black Burgundy does well in our cooler regions, and is usually pruned short, although it gives far better results with long pruning.
Shiraz (pronounced Shir-az') is another red variety which is extensively cultivated in Australia. It is the grape from which the celebrated Hermitage red wine of France is made, and was first planted by a monk, who brought the cuttings from Shiraz, in Persia. It is one of our most reliable red varieties, and prospers best in a moderate temperature.
But the white varieties will perhaps afford us a better idea of the expression "cepage," for three different varieties may be adduced, whose characteristics are well known. First of all there is Riesling (pronounced Rees-ling, but too often, as I have just mentioned, erroneously spelt Reisling), whose prototype is that delicate Riesling of the Rhine, from which those famous wines of the Rheingau, namely Steinberg, Marcobrunner, Johannisberg, as well as Hock, are made. It is probably the best of our white wines, and does well in the cooler districts. But it should be borne in mind that long pruning is indispensable for it, as it gives very poor crops when pruned short.
Then we have Tokay (pronounced Tok'-ay), so nearly corresponding to the Furmint, which is the chief grape grown in the well-known Tokay vineyards of Hungary. It yields a most excellent wine, and does well in the same regions as the preceding.
And lastly, Verdeilho (pronounced Ver-dell'-o) deserves to be referred to amongst the white wines. It is the principal white variety grown in Madeira, and Madeira is a wine that is especially held in repute. It is better suited for the warm districts, and requires to be completely ripe before vintage.
It was a most fortunate thing for Australia, therefore, that her pioneers in viticulture were men like James Busby, who obtained their plants from the finest "cepages" in Europe. And this is a magnificent legacy which must inevitably exercise a powerful influence for ever on the Australian vine. Mr. Hubert de Castella drew special attention to this very fact in his paper read before the Royal Colonial Institute, London, in 1888 : so that a beginning was made under the most auspicious conditions.
There are some interesting facts in connection with the different "cepages" which are certainly worth noticing. If the climate and the soil in one place be similar to the climate and soil in another, each variety - le cepage - of the grape will always produce the same wine. Thus some vineyards on the Yarra, Victoria, having a similar climate and similar soil to one of the great Bordeaux districts of France, pro duced a wine hardly to be distinguished from that of the latter.
Then, again, one vine may produce a choice wine in one locality, but only an indifferent growth in another; and, conversely, a different "cepage" which does well in the latter region is almost a failure in the former. For instance, in France, the Gamay in the Beaujolais district, in which the soil is granitic, gives a superior wine to the Pinot; but, on the other hand, the Pinot in the Burgundy country, where there is a limestone formation, gives forth a world-famous wine, whilst the Gamay is nowhere in comparison.
Next, it is necessary to remember that the effect of a warmer climate is to increase the alcoholic strength of a wine. At the same time, however, it must not be forgotten that this effect is greater in some varieties than in others. One " cepage," giving in a cool region a wine of 18 per cent. of alcohol, when transported to a warmer locality may show an increase to 26 per cent. of alcohol. Another "cepage," showing 20 per cent. in the lower temperature, may only develop 23 per cent. in the hotter districts.
It will be evident from the preceding that the greatest discrimination is necessary in the selection of the variety for any particular region; and from the knowledge at present at the vine-grower's command he can do no more than form an approximate opinion of the "cepage" likely to suit his locality best. It is recommended, therefore, that new planters, before starting their vineyards, should carefully observe what varieties are giving the best results at any neighbouring vineyards; if some appear to be doing better than others, they should stick to the successful kinds. And again, it is advisable that they should be chary of what plants other vine-growers extol, when perhaps the latter are in another part of the country altogether and under totally different conditions of climate and soil. Instead of committing themselves to a large purchase, therefore, they should plant a selection of several varieties, and find out those which are the most suitable.