The ‘heroic’ work of European Garnacha/Grenache

There are wine-growing areas within the ‘European Garnacha/Grenache Quality Wines’ program with specific geographical features that make vineyard work more complicated than usual. In addition to the vine cultivation and harvesting work, which is complex in itself, there is the manual work that is very often carried out on a steep slope at high altitude.

This is what is known as “heroic viticulture”, very much focused on certain high-altitude areas. These are vineyards that must meet some of the following requirements to be called “heroic”: a terrain with more than 30% slope, an altitude of more than 500 meters above sea level or vineyards on terraces. Heroic viticulture vineyards are rare, and in Europe only 5% of the vineyard responds to these peculiarities.

©Vins du Roussillon

Working in these areas is generally risky, given the slope on which the vines are located. Moreover, the work here is done manually, as mechanization is almost impossible due to the unevenness of the terrain.

Within the ‘European Garnacha/Grenache Quality Wines’ program, one of the areas with vineyards that are difficult to access is particularly Collioure / Banyuls (Sur Mer) in the Pyrénées-Orientales in the South of France. In these areas, the cultivation, maintenance and harvesting of grapes are heroic, as they are conditioned by the distribution of the vineyards in terraces. Those are used to overcome the slope of the land, avoiding the erosion… and yet, for instance, each two years, the winegrower needs to bring back the soil from down the slope to the upper terraces…, the mechanization is impossible, because it is too risky for the worker and for the vine.

This French area is in its whole like an amphitheater, dominated by heights that are often difficult to cross, separating it from the neighboring provinces. Geologically, it is a rugged place that underwent drastic changes during the Tertiary and Quaternary periods. After the uplift of the Pyrenees, the southern and northern parts of the Eastern Pyrenees developed very differently.

With 14 AOP: (Banyuls, Banyuls Grand Cru, Collioure, Côtes du Roussillon, Côtes Du Roussillon Villages, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerde, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Caramany, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel, Côtes du Roussillon Villages les Aspres, Maury Sec & Doux,  Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes – the unique one which is not made with Grenaches) and 2 IGP (Côtes Catalanes and de la Côte Vermeille), mainly from 25 different grape varieties, the wines of this area in the south of France are very rich and each one expresses its own character.

It also has one of the highest proportions of old vines in the world, on the most varied soils up to 750 meters, with 80% of the vineyard located along rugged mountainous terrain. This situation, its warm, dry climate are well suited to Grenaches (38% of the vineyard). It therefore offers the perfect conditions to produce quality wines.

©Vins du Roussillon

In the north-east of Spain – DO Calatayud, DO Campo de Borja, DO Cariñena, DO Somontano, and DO Terra Alta – there are some areas of Garnacha vines located at high altitudes – a determining factor in the production of quality wines. These regions have steep slopes and altitudes between 300 and 1,100 meters above sea level. At this altitude, Garnacha vineyards are cultivated with great care and without irrigation, resulting in excellent wines.

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