Background and aims Covering whole vines with shade cloth is used to protect the vines from heat stress, but may have costs on vine productivity through reduced light availability. Our aim was to assess the carbon balance of vines growing with and without shade to quantify the impact of the covering. Methodology Whole vines were covered with 70 % shade cloth, and shoot leaf area and leaf, stem and bunch growth were followed over two growing seasons. Photosynthesis was measured in situ in all leaves along selected shoots over the growing season. A carbon balance was constructed from the difference in acquisition of carbon and the sequestration of carbon as biomass across the growing seasons. Principal results Shade covering had no initial impact on shoot growth but later reduced leaf growth and later still bunch growth. Stem growth was unaffected. Photosynthetic properties were characteristic of shade leaves, with lower rates and lower light saturation compared with wellexposed leaves. Overall, net photosynthesis was reduced by 40 % by the shade covering and was attributed to the reduced photon flux densities. From the carbon balance, vines were reliant on carbon reserves over 6 weeks after budbreak until current photosynthate increased sufficiently to supply the growth. Shade covering impacted most on biomass accumulation to leaves and bunches at the stage when the vines became autotrophic, consistent with the reduction in carbon acquisition. The markedly high carbon demand by bunches caused a mid-season negative carbon balance, implying that shoots had to draw further on reserves to supply the carbon. Conclusions Shade covering over whole grapevines exacerbated the imbalance between the supply of and demand for carbon and greatly reduced vine biomass, especially reproductive allocation. Covering vines with shade cloth to protect the vines from heat events, therefore, had major costs in the carbon economy.