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Can vines be planted anywhere?

Published 28 December 2017

Ever since vines were first farmed around 6000 BC, humans have tested all kinds of conditions and growing possibilities.

During Antiquity and up until the Roman empire, especially in Italy, vines were often planted alongside other bushes for support.

The ancient system of terraced vineyards (Switzerland) allowed vines to be planted on steep slopes (Irouléguy, Lavaud, Valais, Cinque terre, Porto etc.) Examples include the Basque vineyard of Txakoli, situated in a very damp climate (>1,500 mm); the vineyards planted in volcanic soil on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands or on Santorini island in Greece; the ancient ‘sand’ vineyards growing in the sand on the Capbreton dunes in the Landes in France;  the “joualles” system which combines vine growing with other fruit farming; vines growing in the oasis in the Sahara desert which mainly produce table grapes; and the unique vineyard on the hill of Montmartre in Paris. There are plenty of unique and unusual locations.

Fashion has also had its influence, when everybody wants to plant vines regardless of the conditions.

  • In tropical areas in a number of countries (Columbia, Venezuela, Brazil, Reunion Island, Thailand, Vietnam and even on an atoll: Rangiroa in French Polynesia) where vine growing is complicated and sometimes produces unreliable results.
  • In Canada a vine grower wanted to install snow guns to bury the vine stocks to protect against the cold. Vines can be found in plenty of unexpected places such as on roundabouts in cities or in the countryside, in airports, on the terraces of buildings and even on the slopes of a slag heap in the north of France.

Either way it is important to think carefully before planting vines, especially about the desired results!

For vine growers in France, planting vines is subject to regulations controlled by the INAO. Vines cannot be planted at random: the areas that can be planted and the grape varieties which can be used are fixed by decree. This is not necessarily the case in all countries.  

Generally speaking, vines adapt well to a variety of situations, but they also have certain requirements and limitations.

Climate

The northern limit for growing vines in Europe begins in the south of Brittany and stretches East as far as Ukraine. Vines require specific climate conditions in order to produce fruit, and certain areas which are too cold or too wet and which have few hours of sunshine (such as in northern Europe) are not very favourable. Intertropical climates are better suited, but with a lot of human intervention (green pruning to bring about the first flowering). Moderate climates are better adapted but sometimes have constraints, such as burying the vine stocks in winter in continental climates such as in eastern Turkey, where it freezes with temperatures below -15°. Vines are grown most extensively in the countries of central, western and Mediterranean Europe, as well as, more recently, other countries which may have the same agro-climatic conditions.

Diseases and parasites

Vitis vinifera is prone to a certain number of diseases which cannot be avoided in wet countries, something which can greatly limit growth. Non-grafted vines are currently in fashion, but phylloxera remains a constant threat for vine growing.

Soil

It must not be too damp, too dry or too chalky. Countries outside Europe, which often have dry climates, have to irrigate the land (Argentina, Chili, Australia, California).           

Grape varieties

There is a large diversity of grape varieties, and they also have a range of different characteristics which must be taken into account. Most grape varieties are native to Europe. Some are very ‘adaptable’, while others are less so.

Table grape vines require mainly hot climate conditions with plenty of hours of sunshine in summer.

Having the best terroir is essential for producing great wines. For other wines, it is important to choose the right grape variety and have healthy, ripe grapes.