Steep challenges for research in mountain wine regions

Farming vineyards on mountains is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about which wine one is going to try next. Yet, mountain wine regions are an important part of European viticulture, with some being the finest wines of the continent.

According to the United Nations Environmental Program [1], a mountain area is objectively defined as a function of altitude and inclination. Using these criteria, the European Union itself counts 170 NUTS level 3 regions, having more than half of their population living in mountain areas and more than half of their surface covered by mountain areas.

Furthermore, several wine regions are home to wine geographical indications, famous for the identity and excellence of their wines (Douro, Moselle, Priorat, Ribeira Sacra, Savoie, Rheingau, Valle d’Aosta, Wachau, among others). These regions are usually hard to farm,  presenting specific challenges in terms of costs and productivity, but also protection against diseases, erosion control and water and biodiversity conservation.

Some NOVATERRA trials are conducted in the mountain wine region of Douro, Portugal. Counting about 250 000 hectares within its boundaries and 44 000 hectares under vineyards, the Douro is the largest mountain wine region in Europe, spanning a stretch of Portugal’s northeast territories about 100 km long. It is a climatically-challenging region with extreme temperatures and low rainfall. Here, the steepness of the slopes where vineyards are established and the ruggedness of the relief create high heterogeneity that needs to be addressed when designing experimental trials.

To counter heterogeneity, trials’ design for NOVATERRA Work Package 2 used larger than usual vineyard blocks set in different areas with varying altitudes, slope inclination, aspect, and soil structure. In each block, numerous plants integrated the observed population so that statistical analysis could produce meaningful and reliable data.


In these conditions, resistance inducers in grapevines were tried to evaluate their potential in decreasing the usage of PPPs while securing good protection against the main fungal diseases: downy (Plasmopara viticola) and powdery (Erysiphe necator) mildews. New pheromone formulations against the grapevine moth (Lobesia botrana) were also trialled. Overall, for WP2 trials, a total of 8 hectares were used providing solid data to NOVATERRA studies meant to advance sustainable mountain viticulture technologies.

[1] UNEP-WCMC (2002) Mountain Watch: Environmental Change and Sustainable Development in Mountains. Defining Mountain Regions Page 74. UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre Cambridge, United Kingdom