The aim of viticulture around the world is to produce the best possible quality grapes in preparation for winemaking. The key influences of soil composition, temperature through the various stages of the season, rainfall, wind exposure, topography and orientation all play a major role in determining the most outstanding sites for the production of high quality wine. The ability to express the character and conditions of vineyard site in the finished wine is one of the most sought after attributes in fine wine.
Regionality, known also as “terroir” is not only expressed by the environmental factors but also by the human factor. Knowledge is passed from one generation to the next, consistently evolving while preserving and expanding centuries of heritage.
Discovering the unique characters of different regions is an opportunity to learn more details about the provenance and history of a wine.
The European Union is the world’s leading producer, consumer, exporter and importer of wine. In fact, Europe produces over half of the world’s wine and wine production is an essential economic activity for many regional economies. Vine-growing and wine production also plays an important role in the level of activity and employment in rural areas of many EU member states and their regions.
In 2005, there were about 1.3 million holdings with vineyards for wine production in the EU-25, representing more than 20% of all EU farms. Those farms, occupying more than 3.4 million hectares of land, accounted for approximately 20% of the total employment in EU agriculture, employing over three million people, with the family labour force being still prevalent. Alongside the permanent jobs, there is also seasonal employment in the harvest. Mediterranean countries (Italy, Portugal, France, Spain and Greece) employ 84% of the total labour force used on holdings with vineyards.
Looking at the evolution of agricultural holdings with vineyards over time, there has been a significant drop in the number of holdings (from 2.1 million in 1990 to 1.3 million in 2005) and in the corresponding level of employment. These results are a clear indication of a longstanding and profound restructuring process that is taking place in the European wine sector.
The socio-economic dimension of vine cultivation extends beyond the agricultural activity in the vineyards and should also take into account indirect economic activities linked to wine production, such as: trade and marketing of wine; production of oak casks, bottles, labels, capsules and corks; development of wine tourism.
The wine sector also makes considerable contributions to the environment. Vineyards ensure human presence in fragile areas that often lack other real economic value. Vines planted on hillsides help limit soil erosion and can also provide fire protection since the low density of their rootstocks help to restrict the spread of fire.
As the wine sector adds value to landscapes and contributes to its preservation, the European Landscape Convention also accords a particular relevance to vineyards. Furthermore, based on the European Landscape Convention provisions regarding the protection, management and planning of landscapes, numerous studies have been developed to highlight the value, to set codes of best practices, to preserve the environment and to promote vineyard landscapes as a label of quality tourism.