OIV 2014


Nursery production: A tool for assessing vineyard evolution

Posted July 20, 2016

Maurizio Boselli (1)
Gianfranco Tempesta (2)
Monica Fiorilo (3)


Vine nurserymen operate in the territory with the vinegrowers. They have to be familiar with the working situation, but even more so with current trends; this is in order to allocate the costly investments for fields of mother plants, both scions and rootstocks, that will be required in the next 10–20 years. Forecasts are useful tools for both public and private users.

The work proposed also analyzes the Italian situation as a useful model for understanding the evolution of individual varieties as well as the dynamics of the different vinegrowing basins. It also analyzes the dynamics of the French and European nursery supply.

“In a glass of wine there are the hopes of a year, the teachings of centuries, the hard work of every day”

(P. Raviola). 

1. Introduction

1.1. Culture and wine

Much of the history of humankind has been written with a  vine cane and the grape product itself, wine, has influenced the very essence of civilization. 

Viticulture is not compatible with transhumant groups (hunter-gatherers), being anchored to the territory and to the stable settlement of human groups. 

In the  Standard of Ur (2,600 B.C.), a Sumerian figure toasts with a goblet of wine, fruit of the vine that had already been trained from dioecious to hermaphrodite. 

In Egypt, frescoes delight with vineyards and goblets  that are raised strictly during ceremonies and for a select few (nobles and priests) and lively drawings of the To m b of Nakht (1,425 B.C.) describe the winemaking process in detail. 

Orphic rites of the Dionysian cult in Greece established  the link between wine, rituality, spiritual salvation and the promise of afterlife in the 6th century B.C.; symbolism that was adopted by the new Christian cult. 

The Etruscans (8th century B.C.) left testimony of the  good life, holding a patera of wine. 

The Roman cult of the God Bacchus could not  conceive of a universe without the sacred drink that transmitted the concepts of wellbeing, happiness and gaining favour from the Gods for a good farming year. 

Viticulture enthusiasts (Cato the Elder, 160 B.C.,  Varro, 37 B.C., Virgil, 36 B.C. and Columella, 1st century B.C.) write in detail about vinegrowing and the production of wines all over the Roman Empire (Boselli et al., 2012).

Christianity adopted this drink for rituals, thus defining  a universal expansion: churches, monasteries and abbeys were mainly responsible for the distribution. 

1.2. Historical  Excursus on the location of varieties and wine types 

Columella and Pliny already recognised the fact that  some wines were good because they came from a certain territory, for example Cecubo and Falerno wines. 

During the many centuries of the Roman Empire, wine  took on a strategic importance. Large quantities entered the Roman ships ( naves onerarie) together with other products such as oil and Garum. The Testaccio Hill in Rome, made  up of millions of pieces of amphorae, bears witness to this. 

The economy generated by this trade and the expansion  of vineyards enter into conflict with metropolitan viticulture, so much so that Domitian’s Edict (92 A.D.) imposed the compulsory uprooting of half of the non- Italian vineyards. 

During the long medieval period, it was the  Oradores (clergy) who jealously guarded the maintenance of symbolism and, together with the 

Belladores  (nobility), they owned most of the farming land worked by the third social class, the Laboradores . This model has only been 

surpassed in Europe in the last century and was repeated  in the colonies, where viticulture, imported by religiosity and the sword of the 

conquistadores , developed. Dried Moscatel de Alejandria grapes were the usual sustenance of the colonizers, the mother variety for most of South American viticulture. 

Monasteries spread viticulture with the typical  varieties from the original territory, for example, the abbeys of Cluny and Citeaux brought Pinot and Chardonnay grapes to vast territories. The former are known today as “Burgunder”.

So coming from Burgundy, the link with the territory –the variety, (origin of the trio “local, loyal and constant ”) the basis for the designations of origin.

Viticulture and culture went hand in hand. The first example of this link breaking came in 1453, with the fall of Constantinople, the region of Asia Minor, today’s Turkey, and the consequent abandonment of wine-grape vineyards due to Islamic taboo or veto.

More recently, (1966) the same break occurred with the decolonisation of the Maghreb, which saw the disappearance of 400,000 hectares of French-Algerian vineyards.

The unification of the world with exploration and renewed maritime trade favoured new types of wine:fortified wines, such as Port, Jerez and Marsala, or distilled products: brandy and cognac. The mercantilist model was repeated in the new colonies (South Africa, New Zealand

and Australia) that do not have a historical heritage and lineage, but are more based on market values, international varieties, brand names or distribution; bases for a different concept of the wine product.

1.3. Land ownership and Italian vineyards

The vineyard is the womb of the mother that protects, feeds and confers a centuries-old identity; this is why it surrounds houses, giving rise to models that have remained, with some innovation, until modern day.

The three above-mentioned categories (Oradores, Belladores and Laboradores) were joined in the Middle Ages by a new producing and   trading class which originated in the town districts, the Bourgeoisie, which gave rise to the Renaissance.

Much land owned by the nobles and monasteries passed into the hands of the new social class, who gave it to the workers in concession for sharecropping or rent. This evolution of society only marginally affected the south of Italy, which maintained its landowning structure until the recent agricultural reforms.

This is where the current ownership structure originates, which is heavily fragmented, especially in tree farming. At the 2010 census, the Italian vineyard had on average 1.7 hectares/farm, and only 2.7 farms exceeded 10 hectares, making up 34.6% of the total surface area, as

shown in the tables below.

The already-highlighted generational change favours the abandonment of micro farms, those under one hectare, which are socially but not economically important. They are particularly common in central and southern Italy and a phenomenon partly shared by other winemaking nations, such as France and Spain.

Image1In these three countries that are the driving force behind world viticulture, the social micro farms (the heirs of manorial self-sufficiency) with 533,000 amateur workers, owning 204,000 hectares, will find it difficult to withstand the impact of modernity.

The abandonment of a lot of the wine-farming

culture favours that agro-industry able to mobilise new technology, a reduction in costs and outsourcing for bulk wines without territorial identification. They can adapt production to the market and promote lobbies to steer legislation.

2. Method

This study analyses what it considers to be the fulcrum of the winemaking system, i.e. the vinegrower and from this it outlines the evolution of the Italian vineyard according to information and data from nurseries.

2.1. The vinegrower

The Italian vinegrower has distinctive traits: 97% farm the land directly and have an average of 1.7 hectares of vineyards, which allows amateur and not professional vinegrowing, so he generally does other jobs.

A high number comes under the category of pensioners and vinegrowing is considered a hedonistic activity. 93% of owners have fewer than 5 hectares of vineyards and this fact affects the cultural values, perception, trends and perspectives of viticulture.

Currently there is a clear epistemological break due to secularization, a lack of cultural transmission, identity and generational exchange, leading to an implosion of viticulture seen more as an economic fact.

Img2The change in economic and social systems, the great burden of legislation and the economic crisis have reduced the appeal of the winegrowing activity, causing viticulture to be abandoned even more, especially in marginal winegrowing areas. The latter can be identified with amateur vineyards, the heirs of a manorial economy mainly based on native varieties. Hence the reduction of the precious genetic heritage, the erosion of culture and the farming culture. 

Further marginality concerns the vineyards whose  owners are older and do not have heirs or young people in possession of the right cultural background and willingness to take on the necessary responsibilities for running a vineyard. 

More generally, the question is whether the wine  culture is able to handle a market that has become internationalised and has alternative drinks such as beers and spirits that allow economic marginality and aggressive trade, or that, conversely, will be conducted with niche products, the prerogative of just a few connoisseurs.

2.2. The decision-making moment

He is unlikely to go through official channels, called administrative systemic weedkillers

by J. Clavel (2008), which are slow and based on out-of-date information, lacking trend forecasts, while the market becomes ever more agile and aggressive.

The vinegrower knows he must be an “aware player ”at the centre of different information and with an in-depth knowledge of informal channels and those in his territory.

Informal channels originate from feedback, the summary of all the information of the production chain and of the decisional need belonging to every businessman.

This new model is set against the official one, described above, that lives on coercive actions (international legislation, plant health limitations, demonization of wine), economic incentives etc.

Much public research is no exception to this plan that is alien to reality. Zoning, for example, often favours political consensus, when viticulture is already organized in well-

defined areas favoured by soil, climate and environment.

Vinegrowers live on an “information black market” that fills the void left by officialdom and, which together with their ancestral know-how, determines a collective

memory and information that is useful at the time of making decisions.

Spreading news by word of mouth provides information derived from real daily facts; from the in-depth skill of one’s own territory; from the cultivation of the vineyard;

from the knowledge of one’s own varieties; from the behaviour of the plants; in a process of continual feedback with the players (processing cooperatives, bottlers, the market) and everything that gauges the situation.

Figure 1 summarizes how the few cooperative wineries transform most of their grapes into wine, while the producer-wine-makers enhance the value of the territory.

This model of interpreting the decision-making moment is not just an unfounded rumour, esoteric and destabilizing to the system, but a real driving force behind the evolution of viticulture.

The nurseryman “distills and concentrates” all this information, processes it and uses it straightaway to meet the needs of the plants and in the long term, to arrange the fields of mother plants useful for  20–30 year cycles. 


He holds market dynamics under his thumb, he  validates innovations, finely tunes varieties, clones and rootstocks for the future market and suffers important losses for his business.

3. The Italian vineyard

3.1. Origin
It originates from mixed cropping – from Enotria Tellus, that some authors recognize as “ Etruscan viticulture ”. 

Monoculture vineyards ( Greek viticulture ) were only in Apulia, Sicily (Magna Graecia) and part of Piedmont. Vineyards were often with several varieties and, sometimes, with dual-purpose varieties (wine and table grapes) destined for local consumption, given the high cost 

and risk of transport.

Viticulture is currently concentrated and structured in  districts, each one with its own identity and a production and market structure (Tempesta et al., 2008; Boselli et al., 2013). 

64.3% is located in the hills, the remaining 35.7% on  the plains; this latter, the heir of mixed cropping, uses wide training systems with irrigation suitable for high production. 

Findings from ISTAT (the Italian National Institute of  Statistics) based on the statistical universe, analysed by the authors in the dossier “Vigneto Italia” (Tempesta et al., 2014), give the location and size for each region in 2010.

 In brief (Table  4 ), viticulture is largely consolidated in suitable areas and districts, but there remain vast, weak areas or dedicated to general wines, especially in central and southern Italy. 

3.2. The values of the territory

The value of the vine-wine is linked to culture and  civilization: it is a social marker. When linked to a landscape, the cuisine, the image that visitors get from the territory, the vine-wine gains value. (Boselli et al., 2012). 

The place name is intellectual property, expressed by a  collective brand. 

All of this, interpreted by semiology as  “langue” (a social convention), gives rise to values that, commercially, are brands. 

For some countries  langue is a model linked to ancestral rituality, for others, who have planted the tree of liberty on the ashes of Cluny, it is the Goddess of Reason and the quality of life, for others still, those used to a kind of Wild West situation, it is a mere commercial value, 

playing on the name of prestige.

Old World viticulture has consolidated this prestige, called “of the territory” (DO and GI – Designation of Origin and Geographical Indication), as shown in Fig. 3. which compares Italy and France (Tempesta et al., 2007).

Img4It clearly emerges how the DOs and GIs are established later in Italy than in France.

The affirmation of DOs seems to have reached its peak and today it is hindered by the quota of Geographical Indications and varietal wines.

The market is the “final judge” that valorises and assesses the product, giving it what it considers to be its real value. Figure 4 highlights how DOs, GIs and other wines achieve very different prices.

The intervention of mass retail in the wine trade forces a simplification of the supply and favours the latter category (table wines indicating the variety).

This process, together with the ease of world trade, gives bargaining power to the commercial phase. Despite the affirmation of territorial values, the only defence of the wine sector, the profitability of the sector is suffering, as shown in Fig. 5.

Part of the explanation of this “enigma” can be seen in Fig.1, which shows an overall positive income in the vineyard-cellar-market vertical integration of many small farms.

Image53.3. Renewal on its own initiative or subsidized.

 The renewal of vineyards is not uniform in the different areas. Some, situated on sloping terrain, are subject to the simple replacement of missing vines, giving rise to perennial vineyards that boast high-quality wines (Boselli et al., 2011).

The remaining hillside vineyards are renewed every thirty years, equal to 3.3% per year. 

Viticulture in the plains, although the proud holder of geographical indications, can and does produce from 15 to 20 tonnes per hectare, making renewal necessary every 25 years, equal to a rate of 4% per year.

Some plain areas undergo changes of variety, as outlined in more detail below.

High-production areas (25 to 35 tonnes per hectare) suitable for general wines, have a forced viticulture and renewal is necessary ever twenty years to keep up the pace. This type of viticulture, little respecting the water footprint, is located in areas where the water factor is not limited by quantity or cost.

Intensive production needs from 4,000 to 5,000 m3/ha/year of irrigation water.

The authorities intervene in this physiological renewal with restrictions, legislation and incentives, altering the normal evolutive process and adaptation to the market.

The areas that boast history, as well as cultural, farming and landscape identity and World Heritage sites, remain anchored to tradition, producing VQPRD wines (Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions).






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