Introduction to the Geographical Study of Viticulture and Wine Production



The study of viticulture and the geography of wine have intrigued humans from ancient civilizations to the modern world. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and other early cultures had a keen appreciation of the influence of geography upon the characteristics of wine produced within an area and an understanding of differences in wine coming from various regions. Throughout history, grape growing and wine production have been significant economic activities and have had a profound impact on culture and the resulting landscapes. The distribution of grapes and wine production are concentrated in certain areas where the “terroir” or ­geography is favorable. Because of the uneven geographical distribution, the geographer is uniquely qualified to study the spatial distribution as it relates to physical, cultural, and economic factors. In addition, the geographer is well equipped to provide the maps and the remote sensing imagery for the analysis of grape growing and wine production and, in turn, create the geographical information systems (GIS) that enable us to undertake applied research. This chapter investigates how the field of geography is ideally qualified to engage in these studies, and it presents examples of research carried out by geographers.


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Have you ever wondered why a 750-ml bottle of Yellow Tail Merlot from Australia costs $7.99, while a bottle of 2005 Chateau Petrus from Bordeaux, France costs $2,500 (2011 prices at the Pennsylvania State Store), even though the vintners use the same grape? Why does a Chablis from France, made from the Chardonnay grape, have a steely, minerally, austere taste while a California Chardonnay often has a fruit forward nose with hints of vanilla and spice? Or even more importantly, why do American wines have the grape variety prominently displayed on the label, while European wines rarely do, preferring to cite the region of production, e.g., Chablis, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Brunello di Montalcino, and Rioja. The answer is clear, GEOGRAPHY!

A tour of your local wine shop is a vicarious field trip to the world of wine, and there is no need for a passport or an airline ticket to take a serendipitous trip through the vineyards of the world. Read the labels on the wine bottles and visualize the many alluring regions where grapes are grown and wine production occurs. In addition to the standard wines from America, whole sections of the store provide wines from France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, representing thousands of producers. If it were not for geographical differences in grapes and wine, a couple of behemoth producers in large factories would make the product, e.g., such as Budweiser does for beer, and Coca Cola and Pepsi do for soda.

The study of the geography of wine is becoming more important as Americans become more interested in wine. In the United Sates, all 50 states have at least 2 wineries, and the total number of wineries in 2010 stands at 6,785 (Fisher 2011). Figure 1.1 shows there is a steady increase in wine production over the past decade in the United States, resulting from the increasing infatuation with wine. The increase is attributable to both the increase in US exports of wine to other countries as shown in Fig. 1.2 and the increasing consumption of wine by Americans as shown in Fig. 1.3. Although beer and spirits consumption is increasing in many countries, Vins de Provence (2011) reports the following for the United States: “…in 2010, retail wine sales were well ahead of retail beer and spirit sales, both on volume and on value.”
Fig. 1.1

Trend in United States wine production, 1995–2009 in thousands of gallons (Data from The Wine Institute 2010)

Fig. 1.2

Per capita wine consumption in the United States, 1995–2009 (Data from The Wine Institute 2010)

Fig. 1.3

Trend in United States wine exports, 1995–2009 (Data from The Wine Institute 2010)

Not all areas grow the same grape, and even if they do, there are distinct differences in the aroma and taste of wine from different geographical regions. It is astounding how the grape Vitis vinifera, the primary wine-producing grape in the world, has subdivided into so many subspecies. Of the more than 100 species of grapes in the world, Vitis vinifera is responsible for 99% of the world’s wine today (McGovern 2007:1). Jancis Robinson in The Oxford Companion to Wine states that there are approximately 10,000 known varieties of vinifera, with Galicia in northwest Spain alone boasting of 1,000 indigenous species (Robinson 1994:1038). In Vine, Grapes and Wines, a book on the most popular wine grapes, Robinson lists over 1,000 of the most ­commercially viable varieties in detail (Robinson 1986). As an additional indication of the diversity of grape types, Gold (2007:1) estimates that there are more than 3,000 registered Italian grape varieties.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that Vitis vinifera is subject to changes referred to as clones, that is, a growth defined as a group of closely related but not quite identical vine varieties sharing the same genetic code. An excellent example is Pinot Noir. Hawkins (2007) estimates that worldwide, there is a minimum of 200 Pinot Noir clones – including approximately 47 versions planted in the vineyards of Burgundy and nearby districts in France – resulting in a great variation of wine quality and aging potential. The fascinating study of the different varieties of grapes and their characteristics is the subject of ampelography. Vitis vinifera is a remarkably adaptable plant with many subvarieties, each with a preferred environment, resulting in a fertile area of study for geographers.

It is no wonder that the typical customer entering his or her favorite shop and purchasing a bottle of wine has an intimidating experience, to say the least. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of choices to make, and many people fall back on the advice of a store clerk. Since each person’s tastes vary and his or her likes and dislikes differ, this may not be the best situation. A wine that is objectionable to the store worker or even to a wine expert writing for Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast may titillate your taste buds and set off an explosion of sensory pleasure. The answer to the oft-repeated question of “what is the best wine?” is the wine that YOU like. Often, this can only be found by extensive trial and error and tasting many varieties and styles of wine. A good way to accomplish this is through wine tastings at the local community college, or through local chapters of the American Wine Society, Tasters Guild, and similar organizations.

Knowing about the geography of wine can also help customers make decisions on selecting wine. Even within a single grape variety, e.g., Chardonnay, there are differences in its characteristics from one region to another region around the world. That crisp, steely, mineral laden Chablis made from Chardonnay will differ drastically from a fruity, heavily oaked California Chardonnay in both price and your personal preference. The same grape grown in a cool coastal zone will taste different from the same variety grown in a more ­continental location. Even in the same region, there may be differences in the grape variety depending on the soil or other conditions, e.g., the Cabernet Sauvignon growing on the gravelly soils on the “left bank” of the Gironde River in Bordeaux versus the Merlot growing on the silty and clay soils of the “right bank.”

This chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book by looking at why geographers are interested in viticulture and wine and what academic basis generates this interest. To do so, it is necessary to travel back to the time of ancient cultures to note the involvement of geographers in researching viticulture and wine in order to understand what is happening today. Following the historical background, the chapter will answer the question of why geography as a field should have an interest in these topics. The remainder of the chapter focuses on an overview of publications in wine geography. It is a wide-ranging look at the types of geographical research – research that incorporates the physical, cultural, and economic plus modern geographic techniques such as satellite imagery and geographical information systems.

The remaining chapters illustrate examples of the great variety of work done by geographers today by looking at the philosophical background, the impact of the physical environment, the utilization of the regional approach, the cultural and economic factors, and the use of geographical techniques to study wine.

Geography is an important part of viticulture and oenology, and the more one understands geography, the more one understands wine. The geography of wine is a window into places, cultures, and times. Join us as we embark on an exciting journey into the geography of wine. As the chapters of this book unfold, lean back, drink a glass of your favorite wine, and taste the geography as we vicariously travel through the wine regions of the world – as seen through the eyes of the geographer.

Historical Background

Wine has been a research topic in geography since the ancient Greek and Roman geographers, but its origins date back much further in time. Geographers surmise that the home of the wine grape, Vitis vinifera, is the Transcaucasia and Georgia regions of Southwest Asia, and they describe its diffusion and history in works by Carl Sauer (1952), Harm de Blij (1983b), Jonathan Sauer (1993), and Tim Unwin (1996). Recent work by archeologists narrows the origin to areas in Georgia and Iran (McGovern 2007). Remnants of pottery with wine residue found in Georgia date to 8,000 years ago (Keys 2003). The recent discovery of a 6,000-year-old winery in a cave in Armenia with all the necessary equipment, including a grape press, fermentation vats, and storage jars, confirms the area had the technology to produce wine (Barnard et al. 2011). Tartaric acid residue on 8,000-year-old pottery fragments in Greece indicates the high likelihood of wine production (Keys 2003).

The Egyptians were also important in the early ­production of wine. Although Vitis vinifera was not indigenous to the deserts of Egypt, grape growing and wine production were important to ancient Egyptians as early as the First Dynasty (3100–2890 bc). Evidence of an early appellation system is on amphorae in the tomb of King Tutankhamen. The amphorae contain inscriptions of labels identifying the name of the wine, its year of production and harvest, the source of the wine, and even who grew the grapevines (Estreicher 2006:18). Therefore, early in history, people realized that place or geography played an important role in differentiating wines from each other.

Figure 1.4 shows a well-preserved painting in the tomb of Nakht (Egyptian Tourist Bureau 2011), illustrating grapes growing on a pergola, people stomping grapes, the straining of the juice, and the storage of wine in amphorae. Nakht was most likely a government official from the middle class, who lived at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty (about 1550–1295 bc) during the reign of Amenhotep II or early Thutmose IV (Davies 1917:50). The painting shows how advanced grape growing and wine ­making was in ancient Egypt.
Fig. 1.4

Grape and wine scene from the tomb of Nachkt, 1550–1295 bc (Source: Egyptian Tourist Bureau 2011. Original from Davies 1917)

The geographical study of grapes and wine has its roots in the classical Greek and Roman writings – ­particularly in the legendary works of Homer and Virgil. In Homer’s Odyssey, one reads about the food and ­culture of the ancient world as Odysseus travels from adventure to adventure on his trip home to Ithaca from his victory in Troy (Homer, Translated by Ian Johnson 2006). Virgil dedicates his second book of Georgics to Bacchus, god of the winepress, with highly poetic instructions on the cultivation of the vine, ­particularly the vines of Italy. Virgil also includes the earliest extensive list of preferred wines in antiquity, many of them personified according to their distinctive qualities (Johnston 1999:207).

The great number of remaining wine amphorae and shards shows the importance of wine in the lives of people in the ancient world and the realization by Greeks and Romans that wine varies from place to place in both type and quality. In an era of polluted water supplies, and in many cases unsafe to drink, wine was the beverage of choice. The amphorae for shipping wine from each wine-producing district have their own unique amphora design and often have inscriptions about the wine’s provenance (Clinkerbread 1982). The importance of wine to ancient Greeks and Romans carried over to their spiritual lives with the creation of the Greek God Dionysus and the Roman God Bacchus representing the god of wine.

Stanislawski (1975:441) postulates that wine was a key factor in the expansion of the Mycenaean, Phoenician, and Greek cultures. The Mycenaeans and Phoenicians used wine as a bartering tool to trade with the barbarians as far away as Spain. Stanislawski states that the major expansion of the Greek empire was by wealthy Greeks planting grain and vineyards for profit (Stanislawski 1975:400). More from this prolific geography of wine writer follows in later sections.

An interest in food and wine is evident in the oldest Greek literature. A pottery fragment with a quote by Alcman, lyric poet of Sparta, lists five fine wines of the southern Peloponnese. The Greek historian Thucydides also indicates the importance of viticulture in ancient Greek culture when he writes, “the peoples of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learned to cultivate the olive and the vine” (Johnston 1999). The Greek fourth century BC writer Theophrastus discussed Greek viticulture and grape growing with an emphasis on vineyard soils and matching them with specific grapevines (Hort 1916:133).

The greatest account of Greek and Roman grape varieties is that of Pliny the Elder who wrote a Natural History of the ancient world, describing grape varieties and styles of wine in detail. In Book XIV, he references 91 varieties of grapes, 50 kinds of “generous” wines, 38 foreign wines, and 18 sweet wines (Pliny, translated by Bostok and Riley 1892). He describes the growing conditions and care of grape vines and discusses the “culture of the vine.” This is the definitive proof of Roman appreciation of differences in wines produced from disparate locales and their preference of some wines over others.

Other religions place a great importance on wine with the Hebrew Bible having over 200 mentions of wine and the Babylonian Talmud over 3,500 (Jordan 2002). Wine also played a prominent role in ceremonies in the Christian faith, such as Holy Communion. Indeed, the Catholic Church was responsible for the diffusion of the grape and the cultural inclusion of wine in the new world, especially where the Spanish and Portuguese colonized the land (Dickenson and Unwin 1992). California is an excellent example because Jesuit priests planted grapes whenever they built new missions; thus, the Church was responsible for the diffusion of the grape and wine industry (de Blij 1983b:59). Even the staunchly religious Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock were wine and beer drinkers, and it is likely the wine they consumed on the first Thanksgiving came from the local vines laden with a bountiful supply of grapes. Enthusiastically, they set about to produce wines in competition with French brands when in 1635 John Winthrop imported some European cuttings. However, it was not long before the colonists found that while the indigenous grape grew well in the ­pebble-strewn soil of New England, imported varieties languished (Albertson 1950:480).

Why Geography?

Even with a great demand for wine in the United States and worldwide, the common wine grape Vitis vinifera does not grow everywhere. Some locations are better suited for its cultivation. De Blij (1983b:12) states that the core area for grape growing is the zone between the annual isotherms of 10°C (50°F) and 20°C (68°F), both in the northern and southern hemispheres. Historically, the locations with Mediterranean climates, Koppen Csa and Csb, have been the best suited for grape cultivation and wine making, referred to as viticulture and oenology respectively. Today, viticulturalists are pushing the boundaries of grape growing poleward by growing more cold resistant varieties and by irrigation, extending the frontier into the arid steppe and desert climates. Table 1.1 shows the major wine-producing countries and indicates trends in wine production over the most recent 3 years for which data are available, whereas Table 1.2 lists the major wine-exporting countries of the world and their output over the same 3-year period. Both tables reinforce the regional concentration of grape growing and wine production and supply ample statistics and variables for geographical analysis.
Table 1.1

Major wine-producing countries in 2006–2008 (Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2006–2008)

Wine production by country 2006 (tonnes)

Wine production by country 2007 (tonnes)

Wine production by country 2008 (tonnes)




































































S. Africa






S. Africa















S, Africa











Table 1.2

Wine-exporting countries, 2007 (Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2008)

Wine-exporting countries 2007 (tonnes)




















S. Africa














As wine consumption grows, it is not surprising to see the scientific study of grapes and wines increase. The field of geography is a natural setting for research relating to location, the impact of the environment on grape and wine production, diffusion studies, mapping, remote sensing analysis of grape production, and many other topics that interest geographers. Over the years, the numerous paper presentations at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting and the many scientific papers appearing in geographic journals attest to the importance of the topic to geographers. It is only natural that people with common interests join to form a special interest group. The Wine Specialty Group received its charter at the 1998 AAG Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, and continues to flourish.

The field of geography is well qualified to study grape and wine production. Most wines of the world have a name associated with the geographical region in which the grapes grow, not the grape variety. Each geographical location has a history of producing a unique style of wine made from a particular grape variety. There is no need to place the grape names of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay on a bottle of Champagne because most wine geeks know that is what is in the bottle. Much of the charm of drinking a bottle of wine is lost when the grape name “Cabernet Sauvignon” replaces a geographical location from which the wine comes and which has a unique imprint on the way the wine smells and tastes.

When non-geographers talk about the geography of an area, they are generally referring to landforms, rock types, weather, climate, hydrology, vegetation, and other characteristics of the physical landscape. All of these factors have a substantial impact on the type of grapes that can be grown and the style of wine, as we shall see later, but geographic analysis is much more.

Geography is the science of spatial organization and deals with the distribution of objects and ­phenomena across the face of the earth, as well as the interaction of the physical and cultural elements. Harm de Blij, a multifaceted geographer who also has a specialty in the geography of wine, states that the field of geography consists of four traditions:
  1. 1.

    Geography deals with the natural as well as the human world.

  2. 2.

    Geography assesses the complicated relationships between human societies and natural environments.

  3. 3.

    Geographers do research in and try to understand ­foreign cultures and distant regions.

  4. 4.

    Geographers practice the “location tradition,” or why do activities and phenomena occur where they do?


(de Blij 2005:7)

The cement that holds all of these traditions together is space or the spatial element for which de Blij states:

To pull it all together, we need a word that telegraphs our main geographic preoccupation, and that word derives from space, not celestial space, but Earthly space. We geographers look at the world spatially. I sometimes try this concept on questioners: historians look at the world temporally or chronically, economists and political scientists come at it structurally, but we geographers look at it spatially. (de Blij 2005:7)

It is evident from the previous discussion that the geography of wine is commensurate with the mission of the field of geography. Geographers are interested not only in the location of vineyards and wine-producing facilities but also in studying the relationship between the physical environment and the cultural environment in order to see why certain areas produce different types of wine. Viticulture and wine production by their very nature are spatial and therefore geographical.

The science of geography has many subdisciplines. Look at the course offerings at a university to get a ­better understanding. Major subdivisions of geography contain regional, topical, and techniques courses. Regional geography studies the world and smaller regions including continents, countries, states, cities, or even places such as wine-producing regions or appellations. Other courses are topical in nature and can specialize in physical or environmental geography, cultural geography, or economic geography. In addition, there are techniques courses including cartography, remote sensing, and geographical information systems.

Examples of Geographic Research

This chapter is not a definitive survey of the subject of the geography of wine, but it gives examples of research by geographers on the geography of wine. Most of the citations and examples are from North American and English language publications. For research in foreign-language publications, especially in France, e.g., see the references in Gade (2004) and Pitte (2008) for many French-language sources. Since this chapter emphasizes what geographers are doing, the following material does not include the many excellent works of a geographical nature by non-geographers. Works cited below are by professional geographers, people trained as geographers, works in geographical journals that are geographical in nature but not by geographers, and works by multiple authors in which at least one is a geographer.

Geographers have published research on grapes and wine for many years, and there are several works highlighting the “state of the art.” Dickenson (1990) presents a status report on the research done by geographers in the first issue of the Journal of Wine Research. In describing his objective, Dickenson states:

This paper provides a bibliographic introduction to such work in English. It explores two major themes-the relationship between environment and viticulture, and between areas of production and wine quality, and outlines topics for further geographical research on vine-related themes as diverse as history, trade, disease and crime. (Dickenson 1990:5)

Dickenson presents arguments for and against the concept of terroir and states that many of the views in the literature are reminiscent of the philosophy of environmental determinism, a concept that was popular in geography in the past, but is frowned upon today. He notes that many geographers have become involved in wine as a side interest to their principal disciplinary expertise and that much geographical research is in a “popular” rather than a scientific style (Dickenson 1990:5). Additional comments on changes in the geo­graphy of wine are made by Dickenson (1992a) in the Interdisciplinary Science Review. In another state-of-the-art paper, Theresa Bulman presents an overview of the geography of wine in her presidential address to the Pacific Coast Geographers (Bulman 2003). She subdivides the field into a number of categories and gives a thorough review of the literature. Other early articles on the place of the geography of wine in the discipline of geography include Holtgrieve (1972) on the geography of the vine, de Blij (1983a, 1986c, 1992d) discussing the rationale behind geographers studying the geography of viticulture, Dickenson and Salt (1982) and Dickenson (1989, 1992a) further exploring how geography can contribute to the subject. In an application to geographic education, MacDonald and Lemaire (1995) present the possibility of using American Viticultural Areas in studying regional geography. Newman (2000) gives an overview of wine in TheCambridge History of Food and Dougherty (2010) summarizes the geography of wine in the Encyclopedia of Geography.

The study of viticulture and wine has advanced to the stage that a number of geography graduate students are writing their theses and dissertations on wine-related subjects. At each AAG meeting, eager graduate students are presenting their research for professional scrutiny. Recent doctoral dissertations on the geography of wine include Nichol’s (2002) research on Mexican migrants and the impact on several areas including Napa Valley, Guthey’s (2004) politics of the agro-industry of California’s North Coast, Barker’s (2004) comparison of the New Zealand and French wine industry, Velluzzi’s (2007) study of the Washington wine industry in Walla Walla, Puleo’s (2008) spread of parasites in the Vallis Tellina of Italy, and Goldberg’s (2010) historical study of the German wine industry.

While geographers have been less than prolific in producing books, their contributions to journals and reports are exceptional. Geography journals have an excellent selection of geography of wine articles. A search of the Annals, Professional Geographer, Economic Geography, Geographical Review, Journal of Geography, Geographical Journal, Geography, Geographical Magazine, Journal of Latin American Geography, Focus, and regional geographic journals turns up many fascinating grape and wine articles. Although not a geographical journal per se, the Journal of Wine Research has a wealth of articles on geography and terroir, and in addition, the editor, Tim Unwin, is a geographer. Because of the ­number of geography of wine articles by geographers in ­non-geographical journals, the author apologizes to those geographers whose works do not appear in the following pages, but, rest assured, enough examples appear to provide anyone an appreciation of the types of research done by geographers.

For those interested in further reading, many books and journal articles on the geography of wine abound. In the following sections, a search of the literature of each of the following subdisciplines in geography illustrates the type of work geographers are publishing:
  • General Reference Books

  • Regional Geography

  • Physical Geography

  • Cultural Geography

  • Economic Geography

  • Terroir

  • Geographic Techniques.

General Reference Books

The classic books in the field include those by Harm de Blij on Wine: A geographic appreciation (1983b) and Wine and the vine: An historical geography of viticulture and the wine trade by Tim Unwin (1996). The de Blij book often serves as a text in introductory courses on the subject. It includes historical, physical, cultural, and economic overviews of viticulture and the production of wine, and explores the regions of the world in terms of major grape types and wines ­produced. In his review of the geographical literature, Dickenson (1990) states the following about the contributions of de Blij:

(de Blij)…through his three books and a series of thematic articles has provided a firm foundation for the study of viticultural geography. He has provided not only a model approach to the field, but made available to other students of the subject insights as to the nature of the geographic perspective, and indication as to areas needing further research by both geographers and others. The two versions of his ‘basic text’ (the one an amplification of the other) provide a clear outline for the geographical study of wine (Dickenson 1990).

On the other hand, Tim Unwin takes a historical approach in terms of the origin and diffusion of viticulture and wine and highlights the historical, cultural, and economic aspects from ancient to the modern times. Unwin has also made a significant contribution to the geography of wine by being the editor of the Journal of Wine Research, one of the leading academic wine journals in the world.

A book by Brian Sommers (2008) entitled The geography of wine: How landscapes, cultures, terroir, and the weather make a good drop aims at the popular market and has met with success. He introduces a number of geographic concepts and presents both the physical and cultural background by case studies. Another book by John Boyer (2009) Drink this now is a general introduction to wine with case studies on the major wine-producing regions. Both of these books are interesting surveys of world wine regions but do not delve into the detail needed for a text in a university course without supplemental resources.

With the exception of the previous books, there has been a dearth of general wine books written by geographers. This is disappointing considering the number of geographers and their interest in spatial patterns worldwide. On the other hand, there are many ­excellent books on wine regions of the world by non-­geographers including those by Clarke (1997), Kolpan et al. (2010), McCarthy and Ewing-Mulligan (2006), and Parker (2008). Most of these books are descriptions of the wine regions with little analysis of why the regions exist and how geographical aspects are ­important. There is a definite need for books with ­geographical analysis, but geographers are not filling that niche in the rapidly expanding viticulture and wine market.

Regional Geography

Geographers have better representation in regional books on viticulture and wine-producing regions. In his Wine regions of the southern hemisphere, Harm de Blij presents an analysis of the wine regions of South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand (de Blij 1985d). These were overlooked wine-producing regions, which have become significant producers in recent years.

On the country level, the classic Landscapes of Bacchus, a book about grape and wine production in Portugal by Stanislawski (1970), is a classic in ­geographic scholarship. Stanislawski traces the development of the wine landscape from prehistoric times to the present by showing the relationship between cultivation techniques, physical characteristics, socioeconomic variables, and marketing to Portugal’s wine-growing regions. The main contribution of the book is the detail given to the importance of the ­cultural geography of each region and the lucid view of how viticulture and wine have created a distinctive landscape.

The Wine regions of America: Geographical reflections and appraisals, by John J. Baxevanis (1992), The wines of Bordeaux and western France (Baxevanis 1987a), and The wines of Champagne, Burgundy, eastern and southern France (Baxevanis 1987b) are prime examples of in-depth geographical research and scholarly writing by a geographer. It is unfortunate that these books were prior to today’s interest in wine, limited in distribution, and did not receive the attention they deserve in and outside the field of geography.

Another prominent regional book by a geographer is Gary L. Peter’s work on American winescapes: The cultural landscapes of America’s wine country (1997). Along with the usual origin of grapes and diffusion commentary, Peters develops the idea of winescapes in America, further developing a concept initiated by Stanislawski (1970) in his book on Portugal.

One of the ways in which geographers study regions is the comparative approach, where the geographer studies two or more regions in terms of how they are alike and how they differ. An outstanding example is the book by Jean-Robert Pitte, French geographer and president of the University of Paris-Sorbonne, in which he compares and contrasts two famous wine-producing regions in his Bordeaux/Burgundy: A vintage rivalry in terms of their physical, cultural, and economic geography (Pitte 2008). Although written by a French geographer, the book is now available in English. Following the French geographic tradition, Pitte emphasizes historical and cultural differences between the two regions, but with a balance for the physical factors that also define the regions.

Many regional articles appear in geographical journals with an early example of the comparative approach being an article by Blanchard and Blanchard (1929) on the grape industry in Spain and Portugal. Another example of the comparative approach is an article by Warren Moran (1993) on the comparison of wine production in France and California. It details how physical factors play a role in influencing political structure and criteria to delimit wine regions, resulting in France having a highly controlled methodology versus laissez-faire policies in California. Comparisons with France have been popular with Barker (2004) performing a comparative study on how laws have affected the changes in the geography of wine in France and New Zealand.

In addition to the Barker research on France and New Zealand, several other researchers have picked New Zealand as one of the countries in a comparative study. Gwynne (2006a) contrasts how the wine industry in New Zealand and Chile has developed. In another article, Gwynne (2006b) evaluates factors influencing the growth of the wine industry in New Zealand versus that in Chile. Barton et al. (2007) also use New Zealand and Chile in an article comparing their competition and cooperation.

De Blij (1983b) uses a comparison of Chile and Argentina to explore the wine production of the two countries. In another Chile and Argentina comparison, Rosas (2008) shows how government policies and the influence of outside companies have resulted in globalization of the Chilean wine industry, as opposed to a homegrown expansion in Argentina. Giuliani et al. (2010) shows the popularity of Chile as an area of comparative study with a discussion of the researchers who are working on Chile, South Africa, and Italy. The three countries are also the site for a study by Cusmano et al. (2010) comparing their status in world markets. Other examples of the comparative approach are studies of Los Haso, Zacatecas and Napa, California (Nichols 2002), Barolo and Barbaresco (Smith 2005), and Castile and Leon, Spain (Sánchez et al. 2010).

Many articles by geographers pertain to a single region and often show how a region has an advantage or disadvantage compared to other areas. Many of the early local regional studies by geographers did not pertain to sexy regions that captivate our interest today. Morrison (1936, 1950) wrote about the Ohio wine industry, which historically was a very important region until its decimation by phylloxera and prohibition. Dahlberg (1961) gives us a locational study of the Concord grape in the Chautauqua-Erie region. Newman (1986) illustrates how the physical and cultural characteristics define the Finger Lakes region, and in another study, discusses the decline and redevelopment of the Finger Lakes wine industry (Newman 1992). Other lesser-known vineyard regions discussed by geographers are the Ozarks (Hewes 1953), the northern Virginia wine regions (Gruber 1981), the semiarid area of Texas (Templer 1986), the Southeastern United States (de Blij 1987d), Pennsylvania (Dickenson 1992b), Umpqua Valley (Jones 2003b,; Jones et al. 2004), Rogue River Valley (Jones 2001, Jones et al. 2006), Oregon (Jones and Hellman 2003a, b; Jones 2003a), and Walla Walla (Velluzzi 2007).

Meigs (1941) was a pioneer in studies about California done by geographers with his economic study of the importance of orchards and vineyards. Other California studies include Peters (1984) investigation of trends in California viticulture, Peters (1987) analysis of cultivars that are best suited for California, and Peters and Gossette (1990) further refining this by looking specifically at Pinot Noir, Barbera, and Zinfandel. Baxevanis (1990) looks at the potential of the Sierra Foothills, Bulman (1991) investigates the development of grape monoculture in Napa, and Guthey (2004) uses terroir and politics in his study of the California North Coast Wine Districts.

Many geographical studies utilize France as their location, e.g., the work by Agnew (1945) on the vineyards of Bas-Languedoc, Weigend (1954) on viticulture in south-west France, Weigend (1955) on the changing port functions of Bordeaux, Gade (1978) on windbreaks in the lower Rhone Valley, Jones (1989a, b) on agricultural despecialization in Languedoc, Crowley (1983) presenting a study on the declining hectarage of grape growing in France as well as a change in the varietals grown in response to French government and EU pressure, Jones and Davis (2000) on Bordeaux, Jones and Storchmann (2001) on Bordeaux, Crowley (2001) on Languedoc versus AOC wines, and Gade (2004) with his history of wine production and the importance of terroir in Cassis, France. Other regional studies include soil erosion in Ardeche (Augustinus and Nieuwenhuyse 1986), soil reflectance (Vaudour et al. 2008; Vaudour 2008), and land use in southern France (Van Eetvelde and Antrop 2004).

Geographers interested in Latin America have written a number of articles, including Morris (1969) on migration and diffusion in Mendoza, Hansis (1977) on land tenure in Mendoza, Ackerman (1978) on central place theory in Argentina, de Blij on Brazil (1985c), Crowley (2000) on the historical character and changing geography of the Chilean wine industry, Gwynne (2008a, b) on value chains in Chile, Corby (2010) on exploring the impact of neoliberal economic reforms on the cooperative sector of the wine industry of Argentina and its relation to globalization, and Overton and Murray (2011) on rural space transformations in Chile.

New Zealand and Australia have been the location of much work by geographers on wine districts, e.g., an early study on wineries in Barossa by Smith (1970), a regional study of Coonawarra (Banks and Sharpe 2006); a marketing study of Australian and New Zealand wines (Banks et al. 2007); regulation and development in New Zealand (Barker et al. 2001); the reaction of boom to gloom in Australia (Kleeman 2006); regional dynamics of the New Zealand wine industry, with an emphasis on the Marlborough District (Hayward and Lewis 2008); Hunter River Valley (Holmes and Hartig 2007); land use change in the Hunter Valley (Manandhar et al. 2009); and vineyard land prices in Hawkes Bay and the impact of urbanization (Overton 2010).

Other regional studies include Dobby (1936) on the economic geography of the Port region, northern Portugal (Ackerman 1937); Herault (Stevenson 1980); China (de Blij 1981); Japan (de Blij 1982); England and Wales (Ilbery 1983, 1985; Dickenson 1985, 1991), the United Kingdom (Unwin 1994; Spellman and Field 2002; Turner 2010); Switzerland (Nachtergaele et al. 1998); Niagara, Canada (Shaw 1999, 2001, 2005); Ontario (Carmichael 2005); Barolo and Barbaresco (Smith 2005); Okanagan (Kingsbury and Hayter 2006); South Africa (McEwan and Bek 2006; Bek et al. 2007; McEwan and Bek 2009a, b; Vaudour et al. 2010); Priorat, Spain (López et al. 2006); Slovenia (Azman and Drago 2009); and Germany (Goldberg 2010).

Articles by geographers appear in the popular literature, e.g., the Geographical Magazine (Stevenson 1976, and a series of 19 articles found in the reference section of Dickenson (1990); Fisher 1975, 1978, 1981, 1984), and a series of articles by Harm de Blij in Focus (de Blij 1985a, b, 1986a, b, d, e, 1987a, b, c, e, 1988a, b, c, 1989a, b, c, 1990a, b, c, 1991a, b, c, d, 1992a, b, c). Geographers are involved in national and local wine newsletters in many cases. Of particular note is a series of articles by geographer Robert Hutton in the Journal of the American Wine Society including articles on Tokaji wines (1993), Hungarian wines (1997), and the wines of Romania (2004).

Another geographer who writes extensively in the general literature is Bruce Sanderson, senior editor and tasting director of Wine Spectator magazine which has a circulation of over three million monthly (Wine Spectator June 2011). Sanderson is an urban geography graduate from the University of Waterloo, with a master’s degree from Queen’s University. His frequent articles in Wine Spectator have a healthy dose of geography, complete with maps, e.g., his recent articles on Riesling (Sanderson 2010a), terroir at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (Sanderson 2010b), and the Piemonte region of Italy (Sanderson 2011).

Physical Geography Research

For non-geographers, physical geography is what they often think about when someone mentions the word geography – landforms, soils, rivers, weather, climate, and vegetation. Many early American geographers were geologists, including the first president of the AAG, William Morris Davis. Physical geographers differ from geologists in their interest in the impact of earth materials and landforms on humans, as well as the interaction with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Even today, physical geographers have much in common with their peers in geology, soil science, hydrology, biology, meteorology, and climatology. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect physical geographers to have a great interest in the impact of earth materials, landforms, soils, drainage, weather, and climate, and the impact of these elements on grapes and the resulting wines.

To the contrary, there has been a lack of research in physical geography related to viticulture and wine for a number of reasons. Although physical geography is the birthplace of the discipline of geography in the United States and most university geography departments still have courses in physical geography, physical geography has seen a major decline in the number of departments offering it as a specialty. The growth of cultural, human, and urban geography in the last century and the recent explosion of techniques courses, especially geographical information systems, have resulted in the field of geography shifting in that direction. Bierly and Gatrell (2004:342) in a study of graduate geography departments from 1991 to 2001 show that the number of geotechniques professors has grown substantially, the number of geomorphologists has remained flat, soil scientists are shrinking in numbers, while biogeographers and climatologists have shown a small increase. During this period, geography was experiencing great growth as a field, so as a percentage of the whole, physical geography has actually suffered a relative decrease.

Many current physical geography professors are older and have their degrees from a time when wine was not as popular as it is today, and many do not have an interest in wine research, whereas recent hires have a greater interest in wine and are doing more wine research. The dichotomy results from physical geography professors being in the older group and the younger hires being the specialists in geotechniques, economic, and socioenvironmental topics. This will continue to increase as older traditional faculty members retire and new professors who teach more job-oriented courses take the positions. Contributing to the disparity in publications between these two groups is the fact that most new hires are under pressure to “publish or perish,” while the more established professors on tenure are less prolific in publishing.

The largest group of professionals in physical geography remains those in geomorphology (Bierly and Gatrell 2004:342). As a group, geomorphologists are more process oriented, whereas the geography of wine has been historically descriptive, regional, or based on the interaction of many variables and the study of terroir.

The future is not bright either, because at the K-12 level, earth science classes have absorbed most of physical geography and much of the rest of geography resides in social science classes. Few K-12 schools offer geography as an independent subject; hence, students do not see it as a potential university major or career path. Consolidation is also occurring at the university level where some colleges and universities are combining geography with earth sciences, anthropology, and/or environmental sciences because of the financial situation. An additional threat to physical geography has been the division of curricula at some universities into physical science and social science. This may result in reassignment of physical geographers to physical science departments along with their courses.

Much physical geography is taught in smaller state colleges and universities where teaching is the primary emphasis, not research, so the number of professors in physical geography may not be as important as where they teach. Even where there is a critical threshold of physical geographers in a department, it is often true that an interest in wine is a secondary interest. Dickenson (1990) states this is a reason why geographers, in general, are not more productive scholars in wine-related research. Many geographers pursue wine as a hobby first rather than as graduate coursework. Even in many large universities, one or two professors who have large teaching loads and little time for research other than in their primary interest do the teaching of physical geography. In addition, few graduate departments of geography have a concentration in geomorphology and soil science, and even fewer universities offer a credit course in the geography of wine.

Although not the primary emphasis of many of the research articles on the geography of wine, physical geography is still an important portion of many articles on regions, terroir, and cultural topics. Living up to its reputation as a synthesizing subject, physical geography often provides the stage for much regional and topical research. Even in weather and climate studies, landforms provide an important influence on atmospheric events.

The following section presents a sample of contributions in physical geography on the topics of landforms and soil, weather and climate, and climatic change. It is difficult to isolate one topic in physical geography that is more important than others in terms of wine characteristics and quality – it is the sum total of all the environmental factors that produces a good wine. Geographers are good at studying wine because geography is a synthesizing science that considers all physical and cultural elements in its analyses. An example is vineyard site selection research by John Boyer, a geographer at Virginia Tech University, who is a coauthor of articles on site selection of vineyards in order to minimize frost damage (Wolf and Boyer 2000) and a chapter on vineyard selection in the ­eastern United States (Wolf et al. 2009).

Landforms and Soil

A review of the literature shows only a few studies on the impact of landforms on viticulture and wine. Landforms are an important part of many regional articles, and ­landforms are an important factor in air drainage, ­elevation cooling, solar prospect, erosion rates, soil ­formation, and the importance of alluvial fans. A good example containing landforms is an article on the German Rhinegau by Schwartz (1997), which attempts to predict relative must quality of the Riesling from site factors by classification and regression tree (CART) analysis. While not arriving at a definitive conclusion on which factor was the most important, the study, nevertheless, reinforces the concept that it is a number of factors working together that contribute the special characteristic of the Rieslings from this region.

The landforms are especially important in the type of soil that forms in an area, or in the case of many great grape-growing areas, the lack of soil. Grapes are one of the few agricultural commodities that thrive in poor soils that are too rocky, too dry, and too nutrient deficient for other crops. Figure 1.5 illustrates a vineyard in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France, where large rocks called galettes cover the surface of many ­vineyards, hardly an agricultural soil in anyone’s perception.
Fig. 1.5

Typical Chateauneuf-du-Pape soil covered with galettes

Several studies of the soil and its impact on viticulture have appeared in the geographical literature. Elliott-Fisk and Noble (1992) investigate the environments of Napa Valley in California and how the landforms and soils influence the wine flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon. Elliott-Fisk (1993) provides an analysis of the soils and terroirs of vineyards in Napa Valley, CA by presenting an overview of the geological ­history, its effect on soil formation, a summary of the physical environment, and developing viticultural environments dividing Napa Valley into four geographical regions. The paper argues that the natural physical environment exerts important controls on viticulture and that subtle soil differences influence the wines of the region.

Soil erosion in the vineyards of the Ardeche region of France is the topic of research by Augustinus and Nieuwenhuyse (1986) who identify problems in the management and control of the vineyards and make recommendations to decrease the amount of erosion. In an article on gravel mulching in the vineyards of southern Switzerland, Nachtergaele et al. (1998), through field measurements, show the impact of gravel mulch on the thermal and hydrographic characteristic of the soil and its impact on vineyard productivity. Overton (2010) and Overton and Heitger (2008) explain how the Gimlett Gravels delimit a viticultural region in the Hawkes Bay area of New Zealand and result in its transformation from a virtual agricultural wasteland to one of the most sought-after and expensive wine-growing areas in the country. Several other studies of soil in vineyards appear in a later section on remote sensing.

Weather and Climate

Many scientific papers extolling the virtues of weather and climate in the creation of a great grape and wine-producing region have been written by geographers. An early paper by Aron (1976) provides an argument for why Oregon’s climate is suitable for premium wine production, a forecast that has proven correct. Other early papers include a study of windbreaks in the Lower Rhone Valley by Gade (1978), wine production in a cool climate by Grant (1984), and location, scale, and climate by de Blij and Peters (1988). Geographer Gregory Jones is a coauthor in an article by Nemani et al. (2001) in which they assess asymmetric warming over coastal California and its impact on the premium wine industry. They find that warming trends are diurnally and seasonally asymmetric, with greatest warming during nights and in spring, and that warming is due to rising CO2 levels with enhancement by increases in atmospheric water vapor.

Several other papers by Jones (2003a, b, 2004, 2006) study climate as one of several variables used to assess the Oregon wine potential. Jones and Storchmann (2001) use climate as one of the variables in analyzing wine market prices and investment under uncertainty using an econometric model for Bordeaux Crus Classés. They conclude that the price of Merlot wine is more sensitive to climate fluctuations, while Cabernet Sauvignon is more susceptible to fluctuations in Parker scoring. Jones et al. (2010) spatially map the climate in American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho using the 1971–2000 PRISM 400-m resolution climate grids. They assess the statistical properties of four climate indices used to characterize suitability for viticulture – growing-degree days (GDD, or Winkler index, WI), the Huglin index (HI), the biologically effective degree-day index (BEDD), and average growing season temperatures (GST) – the result being the GST is the best calculation because of its ease of calculation.

California has been the site of weather and climate in papers by geographers, including a study by Eysberg (1987) on “cool air-conditioned valleys as the equivalent of warm sheltered cotes,” an early comparison of California wines to those of Burgundy. Peters and Gosette (1990) present an analysis of the types of grapes grown in California and surmise that “viticultural mesoclimates appear to predominate as determinants of the geographic distribution of Californian cultivars,” with special emphasis on Pinot Noir, Barbera, and Zinfandel.

Fitzharris and Endlucher (1996) study New Zealand as the site of their paper on climatic conditions for wine grape growing and show how the cool, marine conditions favor certain varieties. Jones and Davis (2000) analyze the importance of the weather and climate on the variety and the impact of climate on grapevine phenology, grape composition, and wine production in Bordeaux, France.

Canadian wine districts have been the location of several papers, including one in which Shaw (1999) analyzes the cool climate wine regions of eastern Canada and the ability to support quality vineyards. Shaw (2002) uses the Niagara region of eastern Canada to assess the use of wind machines for frost protection in the vineyards. In another analysis, Shaw cites Pelee Island and the Lake Erie North Shore as good locations for vineyards based on their location in Canada’s warmest climatic region (Shaw 2001). Upon investigating the impact of the lake effect and soils on the grape varieties grown in the Niagara vineyards, Shaw (2005) concludes that the area’s potential as a grape and wine producer compares favorably to Bordeaux and Burgundy climatically.

Climate Change

Geographers have published extensively on climate change, so it is not unusual to find several publications on how climate change influences grape cultivation and wine production. In his research on Oregon grape-growing regions, Jones (2003b) found changes in the trends in frost occurrence and the length of the frost-free growing season. Jones (2004) published another article in Geotimes about making wine in a changing climate and the potential impact on wine production. The impact of climate change on global wine quality is the topic of a study by Jones et al. (2005). In a study of quality wine areas around the world from 1950 to 1990, Jones et al. (2006) found a general warming of growing seasons with an accompanying increase in vintage ratings with less variability from year to year. Unfortunately, many of the best wine regions of Europe are already at their optimal climatic condition and continued warming may cause a negative impact on their quality. In another volume on terroir, Jones (2006) investigates the impacts of climate variability and change on wine. White et al. (2009) state that competition from the New World, a changing climate, and technological advances, have threatened the Burgundian notion that the quality of wine depends on regional geography and culture, and only flexibility can keep the concept of terroir alive.

In a series of publications, geographers from the University of Guelph explore the impact of climate change on agriculture in Canada. Belliveau et al. (2006a, b) published an occasional paper on the impact of climatic change on agriculture in Canada with references to the grape-growing industry. In addition, Belliveau et al. (2006b) survey the grape industry in the Okanagan Valley in terms of the climatic and non-climatic risks that growers perceive. The result is fear that changing climatic conditions may result in a lack of irrigation water and that changing demographic may interfere with their ability to adjust to climate change. Another related study looks at the apple and grape industry in Canada and its vulnerability to climate variability and change (Belliveau et al. 2007).

A special issue of the Journal of Wine Research in 2010 contains several papers by geographers. Jones and Webb (2010) introduce the topic by discussing the challenges and opportunities facing climate change research in viticulture. Another article, in which Jones is the coauthor, discusses climate induced historic and future changes in viticulture (Schultz and Jones 2010). In a paper reviewing the state of knowledge on the implications of climate change for viticulture and viniculture, Guelph geographers Holland and Smit (2010) suggest the vulnerability approach as a direction for future research on climate change. Switching over to a regional theme, Hadarits et al. (2010) present a study on the producers of Maule, Chile, and their adapting to climate change. Another work, including the geographer Tony Shaw, is an investigation of the potential use of weather derivatives to hedge harvest rainfall risk in Niagara, Canada (Cyr et al. 2010). This is an expansion of their work on hedging adverse conditions employing a short condor position (Cyr et al. 2008).


Geographers have an interest in diffusion of people, ideas, and even insects. Eichel (1975) presents an article on the impact of the root louse Phylloxera, which wiped out many of the world’s vineyards in the mid-1800 s and is still a threat today. In another article on Phylloxera, Stevenson (1980) writes about the devastation of the phylloxera outbreak and its diffusion in Herault in the Languedoc of southern France.

In an example of a biogeographical work from South Africa, Fairbanks et al. (2004) examine the impact the wine industry is having through its expansion into areas of the unique and threatened vegetation of the Cape Floristic Region. They use predictive land use modeling by logistic regression techniques to determine suitable areas for vineyard cultivation according to climatic, topographic, and soil/geology variables, and as a result, they make recommendations to preserve the ecosystem from further damage.

Cultural Geography Research

In this section and the following section, the subdiscipline of human geography is broken down into two components – cultural geography and economic geography. Human geographers by the sheer size of their numbers have published a larger body of work than physical geographers. Under cultural geography, topics of discussion range from cultural landscapes, diffusion, and religion to historical, tourism, and related topics. Although the approach to the study of tourism can be an economic topic, it falls under the cultural heading because much of the work by ­geographers has been in terms of people’s perception of the industry.

It is readily apparent that the physical environment influences the vineyard and that it has an indelible imprint on the resulting wine, but it is less likely for one to think about the involvement of cultural geographers with wine. When we think about a specific wine region, we often perceive the cultural landscape, or in this case, the winescape. The geographical works by Stanislawski (1970) in his classic work on the cultural landscape of Portugal and Peters (1997) in his book on wine landscapes in America provide good examples of how geographers can covey the essence of a wine region through well-crafted prose. Both works follow in the footsteps of Carl Sauer and the landscape tradition in geography.

Some cultural landscapes where wine is important are easy to visualize. Look at the photos in Fig. 1.6 that portray several classic cultural wine landscapes and identify which is the Douro Valley of Portugal, the Mosel Valley of Germany, and the Chianti region of Tuscany. Figure 1.6a is the classic Tuscan landscape made famous in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, characterized by old stone farm buildings on the hillside, surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, and cypress trees growing along the driveways. Nor can one be mistaken that Fig. 1.6b is a vineyard along the Mosel River of Germany where the vineyard rows run up and down the steep, slate hillsides, above the Mosel River and the charming towns, e.g., Zell with its Germanic style architecture punctuated by the church towers piercing the sky, along its banks. Another example in Fig. 1.6c shows the World Heritage Site of the Douro River Valley in Portugal, with its horizontal terraces climbing up the steep hillsides, dotted with farms and quintas in the typical Iberian style of tile roofs and whitewashed walls. One can also visualize other wine cultural regions including the vineyards and stately chateau of the Loire of France, Burgundy with its small walled plots, Greece with its white buildings and blue domed architecture, or even Napa with its California faux Spanish style architecture and strip development.
Fig. 1.6

(a) Cultural winescape – Tuscan landscape with steep hillsides, vineyard, and villa. (b) Cultural winescape – Zell on the Mosel (Source: Mosel Tourism). (c) Cultural winescape – Duoro River Valley with river and terraces

An important part of culture is history, and as a result, geographers are making a significant contribution to wine literature in the realm of historical geography. Stanislawski enlightens us about the contributions of the Etruscans to Greek and Roman civilizations and their contribution to what eventually became the site for the Renaissance in Tuscany. He relates information on grape and wine production, including the invention of the pergola trellis system, by reviewing the literature of Virgil, Columella, Pliny, Strabo, and other writers of classical literature (Stanislawski 1977).

Stanislawski (1970) in a book entitled Landscapes of Bacchus, and in several journal articles (1973b, 1975), makes important contributions on how viticulture and wine making fueled the expansion of the Phoenician and Greek civilizations. He states that wine was used as a bartering agent for metals and other goods in far flung reaches as far away as Cadiz, Spain (Stanislawski 1973b:400). The Dionysus cult helped to expand the Greek influence and helped wealthy Greeks set up a colonial viticultural expansion and wine trade.

Colonization based on grains and the vine, I suggest, represented the emergence of the earliest, specialized, mono- cultural, maritime, commercial agriculture of the Mediterranean basin (p408). That the vine was of early importance is not only a reasonable assumption, but may be shown by the fact that Naxos, the earliest colony in Sicily, stamped a depiction of the head of Dionysus on one side and a bunch of grapes on the other side of its earliest coins (p408). Early Phoenicians traded wine for metal--Hahn said it was wine; wherever they landed, they would tempt the barbarians to trade with them by offering it. Deodars Sickles is the author of the statement that wine was one of their chief trading products, even being carried as far as Spain. (Stanislawski 1973b:400)

Van Eetvelde and Antrop (2004) analyze structural and functional changes of traditional wine landscapes with two examples of urbanizing regions from southern France. In a study of terraced landscapes in Slovenia, Azman and Drago (2009) look at the origin and spatial distribution of terraces in various cultural regions of Slovenia and how they result in a characteristic Mediterranean landscape element. Older fruit-growing terraces are being abandoned, while newer grape-growing terraces are the product of modern, mechanized farming.

Diffusion is a topic of interest to geographers doing research in viticulture and wine. As spatial scientists, geographers are interested in how objects or pheno­mena change over time. Early work by Carl Sauer looks at the origin and dispersal or species and names the center of grape diffusion as the mountain valleys of the Caucasus-Turkish-Iranian borderlands (Sauer 1952:39). Stanislawski discusses the diffusion of the grape throughout the Mediterranean by the Phoenicians, Greek, and Romans (Stanislawski 1975). Additional work on the diffusion of Vitis vinifera occurs in the works of Harm de Blij (1983b), Jonathan Sauer (1993), and Tim Unwin (1996). Also related to diffusion, Dickenson (1990) downplays the importance of the French in the diffusion of wine and gives credit to others by saying:

It is noteworthy that despite France’s pre-eminent reputation as a wine producer, the French have not been major diffusers of viticulture. With the exception of North Africa, where the strong wines of the baking south were used to give body to those of la Belle France in less favourable years, the French empire did not become a zone of viticulture. Instead, it was the Spaniards in California and South America, the Dutch in South Africa and the British in Australia and New Zealand who fostered non-European viticulture. In addition to pioneers such as Fr. Serra, Simon Van der Stel and James Busby, the role of migrants has been significant in the diffusion and maintenance of viticulture--Italians and Spaniards in Argentina (Morris 1969; Hansis 1977), Italians, Germans and Spaniards in the United States (Morrison 1950; Hewes 1953; Walker 1979); and Greeks and Italians in Australia (Stevenson 1988a).

Geography is a spatial science, but it also has a temporal element in that processes occur over time. Research in historical geography looks back in time and analyzes spatial aspects of viticulture. Saeidi and Unwin (2004) explore the symbolism of wine in medieval Persian poetry, focusing particularly on the works of Hafiz whose poetry provides a brief overview of the archeological and historical evidence pertaining to wine in Persia. Agnew (1945) reports on the historical evolution of the Bas-Languedoc of southern France and its transformation from the granary of the Roman world to a grape monoculture at the mercy of vagaries in the weather.

In another historical account, Dickenson and Unwin (1992) published a series of essays on the vine and wine in Spanish America and Brazil, documenting preconquest non-grape alcohol production, colonialization and its impact on grape and wine production, and in-depth analyses of the diffusion of wine production in Mexico and Brazil. Dickenson (1995) further explains the historical importance of Portugal’s colonization on grape cultivation and wine production in pre-independence Brazil. Also of a historical geographic theme is Carter’s (1987) work on Cracow’s wine trade in the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries while Schenk (1992) investigates the viticulture in Franconia and the human and natural influences since AD 700.

The epitome of an historical geography work is the book by Tim Unwin, Wine and the vine: An historical geography of viticulture and the wine trade (Unwin 1996). Starting with the earliest evidence of grape growing and wine making, Unwin follows the diffusion of Vitis vinifera and wine making through the major periods of history, from the Greek and Romans to the impact of modern corporations. His treatment of the socioeconomic variables adds a dimension lacking in many other books, making it one of the most cited works in the geography of wine.

On a more contemporary note, Fredericks (1969) looks at the nineteenth century stonework in California’s Napa Valley and gives an historical account for many of the grand, old winery buildings that form an important part of the cultural landscape. The buildings are a union of physical and cultural factors, including the availability of local building rock and the arrival of immigrants who were expert stone workers. Crowley (2000) gives an historical account of the wine industry in Chile by detailing how the industry has changed spatially and in terms of the quality of the product.

Many geographers work in education and teach introductory cultural geography, so it is no surprise their research is oriented towards the spatial distribution of people and how cultures vary. Kaminske (2005) reports on a viticultural project in which students and teachers at four wine region universities in France, Italy, Slovenia, and Germany work together to demonstrate the importance of viticulture across these countries and study how viticulture has played an important part in their history and culture. In another cultural study, Holmes and Hartig (2007) examine the emergence of a sharply delineated socioeconomic and sociocultural fault line between Cessnock’s former coal towns and the immediately adjacent economically healthy Hunter Valley Wine Country in Australia and the resulting class structure.

South Africa is a country that has seen cultural upheaval and problems with class structure. Geographers have written several studies with McEwan and Bek (2006) stating how the wine industry has been important to the political empowerment of the minorities. Bek et al. (2007) continue to develop the theme in a work on ethical trading and socioeconomic transformations created by the wine industry in South Africa. McEwan and Bek (2009a) investigate the impact of social and environmental certification in the South African wine industry, and in another paper, analyze approaches to ethical trade in the South African wine industry through a case study of the Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) (McEwan and Bek 2009b).

Alcohol is one of the most regulated substances, and wine is no exception. Therefore, it is no surprise that geographers are involved in research about political controls, both by government action and by the industry. Government decisions can both help and hinder the wine industry. Lewis (2007) examines local and state-level liquor laws from 1907 to 1919 and the relationship between cultural groups (urban, religious, and immigrant populations) and the adoption of ­prohibition legislation based on census data and county-level voting data. His results show that cultural differences are important on the local level but less relevant in larger political divisions. In another study, Grigg (2004) looks at world patterns of consumption of wine, spirits, and beer and comments on why each is favored in different parts of the world. Sechrist (2004) analyzes wine sales in the state-controlled system in Pennsylvania and finds interesting differences in preferences between urban and rural areas as well as between cultural groups.

Tourism is another area of research that has caught the interest of geographers. Carmichael (2005) investigates the visitor perceptions of the physical and built environment in the wine industry in Niagara, Ontario, and the juxtaposition of the agriculture and tourism trend. In the Catalan region of Priorat, Spain, where wine has become the major tourist draw, an example of “quality agro-food products” stimulating the economy in a traditional agricultural community is the theme of a chapter by López et al. (2006). Another Spanish tourism study is the article on new forms of tourism in Spain that looks at wine, food, and rural tourism (Canoves and Suhut de Morais 2011).

Wargenau and Che (2006) present a wine tourism study on the motivations, expectations, and successes of Southwest Michigan Wine Trail member wineries in developing horizontal and vertical alliances. Also in Michigan, Veeck et al. (2006) examine agricultural tourism. Che and Wargenau (2011) use visits to winery tasting rooms in a study of education potential and direct marketing. Tomljenovic and Getz (2009) examine the emergence of wine tourism in two Croatian wine regions and assess related life-cycle implications in order to make recommendations for the growth of the wine industry in Croatia. In the Napa Valley of California, Skinner (2010) looks at the impact of sustainable development and wine legislation on tourism.

A population study on the workforce in the Marlborough, New Zealand wine industry by Beer and Lewis (2006), shows that wine tourists make up a significant number of the “casual” vineyard workers, along with transnationals and illegals to supplement the local workforce.

Economic Geography

The contribution of economic geographers to the geography of wine is substantial. Grapes and wine are important products of trade from ancient times to the present. Geographers are interested in the economic health of production regions, agriculture, foreign trade, trade agreements, marketing, globalization, governance, political impact, and value chains. The economic geographer differs in the approach to the geography of wine from the economists in that the geographical approach is spatial and takes into consideration the impact of the interaction of the physical and human environments.

The economic importance of grapes and wine production to agricultural productivity has been of interest to geographers throughout much of the history of the discipline, from the time of Strabo and Pliny the Elder. To substantiate that importance, even in modern times, Stanislawski states the following about the importance of grapes and wine to the economy of Mediterranean countries:

Yet in Mediterranean Europe it is a staple, economically more important than are most industrial products given extended attention in textbooks. If the production of wine were to be stopped, the Greek economy would suffer; the economies of Italy and Portugal would collapse; and those of France and Spain would be put in serious disarray. (Dan Stanislawski 1975:427)

Many early studies of viticulture by geographers are descriptive regional studies that slowly evolved into economic geography as we know it today. Much of the early research by economic geographers pertained to production figures for orchards and vineyards (Meigs 1941) and to why vineyards were so spatially concentrated (Olmstead 1956). Other articles were case studies of a particular aspect in a wine region such as Dobby (1936) on the economic geography of the Port region, Weigend (1955) on the changing port functions of Bordeaux, Dahlberg (1961) on the Concord grape industry of the Chautaqua-Erie area, and Morris (1969) about the development of irrigation and its impact on the Mendoza wine region. In a modern look at water, Bulman (2004) looks at water management implications to viticultural practices.

Foreign trade based on wine has been a topic in geography with Kohn (1986) writing about American wines in foreign and domestic trade. On an international level, Jones and Storchmann (2001) analyze wine market prices and investment under uncertainty and develop an econometric model for Bordeaux Crus Classés. Another example includes a study by Gwynne (2006a) that applies new forms of political economy to a comparative analysis of land, production, and exports in the wine sectors of both Chile and New Zealand. Cusmano et al. (2010) compare Chile, Italy, and South Africa in terms of their international markets for wine and how they are supplying the demand.

International trade agreements are another topic of interest to geographers. Barton et al. (2007) use the signing of a strategic economic partnership (the Trans-Pacific SEP or P4) between Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, and Brunei Darussalam in 2005 to discuss the emergence of a new generation of trade agreements that seek to promote longer-term synergies and cooperation. In a Canadian study, Kingsbury and Hayter (2006) examine the impact of NAFTA and the response of the Okanagan wine region of British Columbia and note the resiliency of the industry to change from the outside.

Marketing is a key to selling the wine from any ­particular location, either by drawing attention to its environmental advantages or by highlighting a particular attribute. In a study of the language of branding, Pawson (1997) presents the effectiveness of the invention and use of place name branding in New Zealand. In a study of the Gimlett soils in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, Overton and Heitger (2008) explore the physical basis for this area becoming an important wine region and, in addition, develop a case of how this area was transformed from a “peri-urban wasteland” into one of the most sought-after and expensive wine-growing areas in the country. A mix of physical, political, and economic factors have transformed the area over a period of 20 years. Banks et al. (2007) discuss the notion of “place” as an important marketing tool for the development of the New Zealand wine industry. On a micromarketing level is the study by Charters et al. (1999) on consumer responses to wine bottle back labels and Newman’s article on “what’s in a name?” (Newman 1988).

Globalization or the trend towards multinational corporations and uniformity in wine production, as opposed to the local terroir influence, has been the subject of several geographical studies. Jones (1989a), in an early study of globalization, reports on the attempt of Napa’s Mondavi Corporation to enter the French wine market through acquisitions of vineyards and the resulting opposition. In a study of the impact of globalization on the American wine industry, Holly (1994) investigates the move towards the concentration of production and distribution of wine by large, vertically and horizontally integrated organizations, while Morris (2000) studies the impact of globalization on the regional differentiation of the Mendoza wine industry in Argentina. In an article on the “flying winemakers,” Lagendijk (2004) reports on how they are producing global wines in interconnected locales and overcoming the local terroiroriented production. In his analysis of “geography versus brands in a global wine market,” Schamel (2006) finds that New World wines have not caught up with European wines, with regional designations, in price and prestige; but large American corporations are able to narrow the gap differential substantially.

Hayward and Lewis (2008) investigate the impact of regional dynamics on the globalization of the wine trade in New Zealand, while Rosas (2008) does a comparative study of Chile and Argentina to show how globalization in Chile and the lack thereof in Argentina has a marked influence on the development of the wine industry in the two countries. Corby (2010) approaches the impact of globalization on wine cooperatives in Argentina by revealing how they are coping with the threat in order to stay in business. In a reply to those who cubbyhole wines into Old World and New World, Banks and Overton (2010:57) argue that we “use the lens of recent work on globalization to argue that such production requires us to reexamine the dichotomous Old/New distinction which structures much of the thinking around the global wine industry”.

Governance is a subject that has attracted considerable attention by geographers because of its economic impact. It can take the form of government imposed regulations or it can be self-regulating agreements set up by the industry. Reporting on a misdirected government funded “vine pull scheme” in South Australia, Barrett (1989) blames the failure of the program on the lack of a long-term focus and the inability to identify grape varieties for the program. In their article on the New Zealand wine industry, Barker, Lewis, and Moran (2001) give a detailed history of the New Zealand wine industry with special reference attributing its rapid rise to a number of factors including liberalization of government regulations and a free trade policy. Lewis et al. (2002) also use New Zealand as an example of territoriality playing a major role in governance. Barker (2004) provides a discussion of the definition of governance in different contexts and explores the impact on the New Zealand and French wine industry. In a California context, Guthey (2004) investigates the terroir and the influence of politics in the agro-industry of California’s North Coast wine district.

Chile is the site of two governance studies with Visser and de Langen (2006) investigating the importance and quality of governance in the Chilean wine industry, and Gwynne (2006b) studying governance and the wine commodity chain strategies in New Zealand and Chilean wine firms. As an example of self-imposed governance, Patchell (2008) applies common pool resource theory (CPR) to assess the attempt by Bordeaux wine territories of St-Emilion and Blaye to construct self-governance in order to achieve a competitive position in global markets.

Related to governance is the impact of land use regulations and the impact of expanding urban areas on vineyards. In a paper of the metropolitan fringe, Peters (1998) points out the problems of vineyards being in the path of urban development. Closely related to land use regulation is the process of viticultural zoning, ranging from government action in creating appellations to government land use planning decisions, as reported by Vaudour and Shaw (2005). In a Canadian example of urbanization, Senese (2010) reports on the urban-rural fringe that is threatening the vineyards of the Okanagan Valley, Canada.

Geographers are also contributing to the study of value chains, cluster analysis, and networking. A study on the governance and wine commodity chain in New Zealand and Chilean wine firms by Gwynne (2006a, b) and a study on the selective nature of knowledge networks in clusters in the wine industry of Italy and Chile by Giuliani (2007) are examples. An issue of the Journal of Economic Geography, with Robert Gwynne (2008a) the editor, contains articles on Chilean wine production and the impact of UK retail supermarkets on the value chain (Gwynne 2008b), Chilean Fairtrade wine value chains (Kleine 2008), the New Zealand wine industry and its domination by investment from transnational wine corporations (Hayward and Lewis 2008), and a case study of the marketing of places in the global value chain in wine and the use of terroir as a marketing tool (Guthey 2008).

A more recent article by Turner (2010) on networks of learning within the British wine industry shows the impact of “firms” on the growth of the industry. Although written by economists, Larreina et a l. (2011) present an analysis of cluster analysis in Rioja, Spain in The Open Geography Journal.


If any topic in the geography of wine is equivalent to opening Pandora’s Box, it is discussing terroir. In the strictest definition, terroir is French for “land” or “soil,” but in the language of wine, terroir is a construct that means much more. The French word terroir epitomizes the belief that each wine derives its characteristics from the environment in which the grapes are grown. Although many researchers in the past have highlighted the physical variables, the following material will also indicate the importance of cultural aspects. Thus, support for the concept of terroir is a belief that geography gives wine a sense of place and makes it unique from wine produced elsewhere. Terroir is therefore a powerful geographical concept because it brings together the spatial elements of the natural environment and synthesizes them with the socioeconomic factors, one of the fundamental tenets of the field of geography.

Over thousands of years of experimentation, European winemakers have identified the best grapes for wine production in a particular region. No grape variety is on the label; they just assume that the geographical name identifies what grape variety is in the bottle. Red wine from Burgundy comes from Pinot Noir, Tuscan Chianti from Sangiovese, Barolo from Nebbiolo, and red Bordeaux from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. “New world” wineries have little history and are still experimenting to find what they can grow well; therefore, the grape variety is prominently displayed, not the geographic region.

Parker (2008) states, “One of France’s most celebrated wine regions, Burgundy is often cited as the best place to search for the fullest expression of terroir.” The same Pinot Noir grape grown in California, New York, New Zealand, or Washington will produce a wine with a different style, aroma, and taste. Not only do the French think that a Pinot Noir from Burgundy tastes different from a Pinot Noir produced in California, they also believe that wines produced from Pinot Noir in different parts of a vineyard will differ because of the microgeographical conditions. Parker states the following about terroir:

It embraces the soil itself, the subsoil and rocks beneath it, its physical and chemical properties and how they interact with the local climate, the microclimate of the region, to determine both the mesoclimate of a particular vineyard and the microclimate of a particular vine. This includes for example how quickly a patch of land drains, whether it reflects sunlight or absorbs the heat, its elevation, its degree of slope, its orientation to the sun, and whether it is close to a cooling or sheltering forest, or a warming lake, river or the sea. (Parker 2008:26)

The English wine authority Jancis Robinson states, “Terroir is a much discussed term for the total natural environment of any viticultural site. No precise English equivalent exists for this quintessentially French term and concept” (Robinson 1994:966). She further states that the components of terroir are a function of the soil, local topography, and climate. Both Parker and Robinson define terroir in terms of physical characteristics of the vineyard and wine region.

In scientific literature, geographers have come late to the table in terms of studying terroir. Much of the early research in the US is by geologists with James Wilson’s book on Terroir: The role of geology, climate, and culture in the making of French wines being the groundbreaking work (Wilson 1998), Swinchatt and Howell (2004) with their work on Napa Valley, and MacQueen and Meinert (2006) publishing articles from several symposia on terroir. Fanet (2004) and Gladstones (2011) are both soil scientists who have published volumes with a healthy dose of terroir in them. The book by Sommers on the geography of wine is one of the few books by a geographer that unapologetically subscribes to a belief in terroir (Sommers 2008).

Some argue that terroir is the characteristic that gives a wine its unique olfactory and taste profile, while others are dubious and infer that this is a marketing ploy by the French to set their wines apart based on their special soils and landscape (Parker 2008:26). Geographers do not agree in their support of terroir. Dickenson and Salt take a dubious stand, as has Gade (2004) in the quotes that follow:

…no methodology has yet been produced for satisfactorily correlating micro-environment characteristics with those of the end product. Everyone says there is a relationship, but no one understands why. (Dickenson and Salt 1982:169)

Wine is too complex to be able to derive a simplistic causation from the climate or soils of a particular terroir. Elevation of environmental factors in the popular mindset to account for wine character and quality is testimony to the tenaciousness of deterministic thinking. Much terroir-based explanation reflects the partitioned mind-set that presupposes “human” factors as separate from “physical” factors. (Gade 2004:865)

On the other hand, Sommers in his book on the geography of wine takes a proactive stance and states:

For those of you not familiar with the concept, terroir is French for “ground” or “soil,” but it is more than that. It is used to describe all the local features of environment and society that have an effect on wine. Many people believe that all of the features of a place taken as a whole-its terroir-have a distinctive influence that you can taste in the wine. (Sommers 2008:19)

The views of Dickenson and Salt (1982) and Gade (2004) reflect a reaction against environmental determinism, a philosophy popular in the early half of the last century and abandoned by geographers. In fact, the field made a major swing towards cultural geography, urban geography, and techniques geography and away from the physical. Sommers, on the other hand, represents a new interest in environmental processes that characterizes many geographers today.

Moran (1988) questions whether terroir is an environmental description or an “economic device,” a marketing tool. In a comparison of French and Californian approaches to appellation legislation and terroir, Moran (1993) states that the distribution of vine varieties in France and California illustrates the “tight control evident in France compared with the laissez-faire policies in California.” Moran (2001) also forays into the terroir battle again in his work on terroir – the human factor – by stating:

To attribute priority to the physical environment over the cultural is also a mistake… But let’s be careful not to lose sight of the people who have their gumboots in these terroirs and on the floors of the cellars. The soil exists but the terroir arrives when somebody makes an expressive wine from grapes grown in it. Without people and wine the word terroir would not exist. (Moran 2001)

The idea of terroir is so acceptable that several countries have a legally binding set of rules defining specific regions. The French have the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, the Italians have the Denominazione di Origine Controllata, and the Americans have the American Viticultural Area (AVA). There are 187 AVA’s in the United States as of June 2011 (GPO Access 2011). Theoretically, you can taste the difference in a Cabernet Sauvignon produced in Napa Valley AVA versus one made in the Sonoma Valley AVA because of the uniqueness of the terroir.

There are many variables influencing terroir or the geography of wine. Of primary importance is the physical geography including climate, microclimate, air drainage, solar prospect, water drainage, geology, topography, altitude, and soil. There are also variations in local socioeconomic factors that have an impact on the regional characteristics of a wine. This is especially true in the more rustic producers on small family farms in France and Italy and less likely in the giant production facilities associated with Australia and Chile where globalization reigns. The following section highlights some of the cultural variables that may combine with the physical variables to give wine its resulting characteristics.

The type of grape planted in an area is a cultural decision because the grape grower has a choice of possibly hundreds of grapes that can grow in his or her area. Many grapes – other than Pinot Noir – can grow in Burgundy, but early in time, the growers in the region made a collective decision to grow Pinot Noir. In fact, by legislation, Pinot Noir is the only red grape that can be grown and carry the name of Burgundy. Even if the same grape type grows in several regions, the clone may be different, and the resulting wine may smell and taste different from another clone. An example is the Sangiovese Grosso, the Brunello di Montalcino grape, which through centuries of selective breeding results in a more disease resistant and more marketable grape than its simple cousin, the Sangiovese grape of neighboring Chianti. The Sangiovese Grosso is the result of human decisions made over many centuries, resulting in a grape and a wine that has a different flavor profile and demands a much higher price than Chianti.

Vineyard practices are another important cultural factor influencing the resulting wine. In the Medoc, the vines may be spaced one meter by one meter apart, while in Australia, the vines may be four meters apart in order to accommodate mechanical harvesting. The type of trellising, pruning methods, and orientation of rows, along with practices such as green harvesting and canopy management, make for great differences in the quality and quantity of the grape yield and influence the resulting wine. Figure 1.7 shows three types of grape training with systems ranging from the “head pruned” Zinfandel of Lodi or the Garnacha of Navarra and Catalonia, Spain (Fig. 1.7a); to the wire trained trellis systems common in Napa and Sonoma (Fig. 1.7b); to the pergola systems found in areas of Tuscany, Argentina, and the Val d’Aosta (Fig. 1.7c). Vineyard practices not only have an impact on the quantity of grapes harvested but may also have an impact on ripeness and the brix, or sugar level of the grape.
Fig. 1.7

(a) Head pruned vineyard system, Apulia, Italy. (b) Trellis vineyard system, Grinzane Cavour, Italy. (c) Pergola vineyard system at Corteforte, Italy

Although most discussions of terroir do not include wine making techniques as part of terroir, the following material makes an argument for its inclusion. Many of the tools and methods available to the wine maker are characteristic of a region and become part of the cultural contribution to the terroir. The choice to use oak aging or not, or even other wood varieties, is often a regional characteristic of many wines. The selection of French, American, or Hungarian oak is a wine maker‘s decision as well as the amount of “toast” or charring desired in the barrel and the amount of new oak barrels. In addition, the amount of time in oak and the amount of new oak is a human decision that has a great impact on the regional identity, tannin content, and aging potential of many wines.

Examples of other decisions that influence the local wine include whole berry carbonic maceration, batonage and punching down the cap, amount of aging in barrel or bottle, amount of residual sugar, sur lees aging, and the percent of grapes in a blend. Another interesting local decision or cultural imprint on a wine is the purposeful use of oxidation to give a wine a regional characteristic that is readily identifiable. The solara system used for making Sherry, Madeira, and Marsala and the Vin Santo process are examples in which the winemaker induces oxidation. All of these techniques have a profound impact on the smell and taste of wines, and many are regional in adoption and, hence, give an identifiable taste to the wine from a particular area.

Style is also important in determining the type of wine that is characteristic of a region. Sherry and Port are high-alcohol styles of wine that have a distinct regional imprint rather than portraying the characteristics of the grape variety. The Touriga Nacional grape is the major ingredient of Port and Douro red still wines, but the Port is a sweet, high-alcohol dessert wine and the Douro is a dry, tannic dinner wine – a good example of human action causing a major dichotomy in the resulting wines. Even with the vinification of the same grape variety in areas that are far apart, one can pick out traits in the smell and taste of the wine that may not be attributable to physical conditions alone. For example, the fruity nature of a Cabernet Sauvignon from California versus one from Bordeaux results from a style that is preferred in a producing region. Some wine producers in California even try to emulate the French style and do so successfully by producing a low fruit, mineral character to the wine (Balzer 1989). Some French and Italian wine producers are making a more ready to drink style that emphasizes the fruit instead of highly tannic wines made for long aging as has been common in the past.

In addition, local indigenous yeasts are important in giving a regional imprint to a wine – another human decision. The rustic and barnyard character of many “old world” wines is attributable to Brettanomyces, wild yeast that can give complexity to wines, but at the same time can be very obnoxious to many palates in the American market. Wines with the smell of dog hair, wool, and barnyard wastes do not sound enticing to many in the American market but are more acceptable and even considered desirable in European markets. Other yeasts that impart distinctiveness to a wine include the flor yeast in Sherries. The choice of using natural or wild yeasts and the choice of making a wine in the “organic” or “biodynamic” style are cultural decisions that may result in a markedly different finished product. Organisms other than yeasts, which are characteristic of one area and not another, can influence the taste of wine.

Botrytis cinerea, a gray fungus that infests grapes, is both a curse and a blessing to vineyards in various parts of the world. On most grapes, it leads to rot and ruination of the crop. On other grapes, the “noble rot” results in a highly desirable taste resulting in some of the most expensive dessert wines in the world including Tokaji in Hungary, Trockenbeerenauslese from Germany, and Sauternes from France. Of the Sauternes, Chateau d’Yquem from Bordeaux is the most expensive white wine in the world.

Food is a major part of a culture and has an impact on the wine produced in a region; hence, it must be taken into consideration as part of the cultural environment that influences the wine. For example, the dry, steely white wines of the Vinho Verde of northwestern coastal Portugal and the Alberinos of Rio Baixas of northwestern coastal Spain are a perfect accompaniment for the bounty of fish, crustaceans, and mollusks from the nearby sea. Is this a case where these grapes are the best choices because of the climate, or is this a case where the food helped dictate the type of wine and is therefore a cultural decision? This is characteristic of many grape-growing areas where a particular food is thought of as the perfect accompaniment for the wine – the pasta and sauces of Chianti with the Sangiovese grape, the plethora of beef in the Argentine diet with the big, bold Malbec wines, and the great variety of German and Alsatian foods with the whites made from Riesling and similar grapes. All of these areas can produce other grape varieties, but the collective cultural thought has been to specialize in a certain grape variety that complements the food.

Distinct local characteristics caused by physical and cultural factors can be easily destroyed by blending, a procedure that is increasingly being practiced by the large wine producers. Many consumers who have grown up with the McDonalds fast food model prize uniformity in food and wine. Blended wines often lack distinct characteristics and are similar from year to year. This is a criticism of Australian “critter wines” which are blended from many different sources that are widely separated.

Another threat to terroir driven wine is the influence of globalization. Many wine experts are critical of Robert Parker, Michel Rolland, and consultants called flying winemakers because of the belief that they are edging us towards more homogeneous international style wines lacking a conviction of place. The premise of the movie Mondovino infers there is a conspiracy to globalize the taste of wines by forcing winemakers to conform to the norms established by the people who rate wines for the major wine publications (Nossiter 2005). The globalization of wine has removed much of the rustic and local character of wine and has substituted certain prized varieties for local grape types. Although this may be true of the mass produced commercial blends, there are still many wines produced by smaller wineries that try to preserve the local imprint of the geography.

In terms of the total impact of terroir, considering all of the physical and cultural variables, scale is an important factor on the resulting wine as has been shown by Vaudour (2002). Grapes produced from a large geographic area will display little of the unique characteristics of terroir, while those from a single block in a vineyard will show the most characteristic terroir, especially physical variables such as soil, drainage, and solar prospect. The latter is the reason estate bottled wines and vineyard specific wines have such a distinct geographic personality and demand higher prices in the market.

Terroir is therefore the sum total of all of the environmental factors which make wine a unique agricultural product. The smaller the geographic unit, the more important is the terroir. The larger the area, the less important terroir is as a distinctive characteristic. Small plots in Burgundy have a geographic personality and illustrate the concept of terroir in that adjacent wineries may have great differences in quality even though they are separated only by a ditch (Pitte 2008:192). On the other hand, mass produced “critter wines” from Australia, although very tasty and receiving accolades from many, do not have uniqueness, but are consistent because they are blended from a wide variety of sources.

Figure 1.8 is the “terroir triangle” showing a regional hierarchy in which the effect of terroir is inversely proportional to the size of the source areas for the grapes from which a wine is made. Blocks within a vineyard, and the parcels called lieux-dits in Burgundian vineyards, are the smallest named designations of area and display the most pure sense of place or terroir. On the next higher source area, the vineyard produces grapes and wines that are marketed with a vineyard designation, e.g., the famous To Kalon vineyard in the Oakville District of Napa. The resulting wines still have a regional distinctiveness and display the terroir. A collection of vineyards called an estate form the next higher level and bottles that carry the “estate” label come from adjacent vineyards owned by one proprietor. At the next higher level is a subdivision of an American Viticultural Area, an example being the Oakville AVA in Napa Valley, where the grapes grow in close proximity but on different soil types with differing fertility and water characteristics; thus, there is more variability in the characteristic of the wine produced from one place to another. At the next step is the Napa Valley AVA or a county-level designation, where in many cases, the grapes grow on different soils, geological formations, and climatic conditions and result in a blend that is starting to lose its regional distinctiveness. Differences between Napa wines are often greater than the difference between some Napa and Sonoma wines. Napa has such great diversity that some parts have soils derived from volcanic rock and other parts have soils derived from sedimentary or metamorphic rock. Other Napa vineyards are located on the flat valley floor as opposed to those found in the mountains where the solar prospect and microclimate varies greatly. By the time a wine has a county or large regional name, it has lost much of its regional distinctiveness. A wine labeled by a state name, such as California, is such a blend from different terroirs that it has lost virtually all of its regional distinctiveness.
Fig. 1.8

Terroir triangle indicating the relative importance of terroir by size of the geographical area

The bottom line is there is no agreement among geographers as to the validity of the concept of terroir. It ranges from a belief that terroir is a marketing tool to the belief that the vineyard block is the reason for the true expression of wine. The idea is truly geographical in nature for it integrates the physical and cultural elements into the spatial analysis or wine regions.

Geographic Techniques

Just as carpenters need a hammer and a saw to do their job, the geographer needs tools of the trade to perform spatial analysis. The arsenal of tools includes math and statistics, maps, air photos, remote sensing imagery, and geographical information systems. This is a ­portion of the field that has mushroomed with the advent of satellite imagery, digital image analysis, and the popularity of geographical information systems.

Geographer John Nystuen is part of a team of researchers who investigated discrete mathematics and counting derangements in blind wine tastings and computed the probability of guessing the identity of the wines in a blind tasting (Arlingahaus et al. 1995). Reynolds and Outcalt (1975) evaluated the extent to which a double-dependence Markov process mirrors the autocorrelation function for a variety of different data sets involving weather, wine, and tree rings. Another quantitative study by Schwarz (1997) predicts wine quality from terrain characteristics by regression trees in a Riesling-producing area of Germany. In a principal components analysis and cluster analysis of 14 variables at 39 climate stations in Galicia, Blanco-Ward et al. (2007) set up spatial climate zones for the Mino River Valley of Spain.

An important geographical tool is the map, and it is used to great avail to plot and to study the spatial distribution of grapes and wine production. The epitome of this venue is the wine atlas with its collection of maps illustrating production areas as well as the environmental factors influencing the growth of grapes. The World Atlas of Wine by British wine experts Huge Johnson and Jancis Robinson (2008) is a compendium of 400 pages with color illustrations, photos, and 200 maps. It is widely used by anyone interested in wine. Other world atlases include those by Oz Clarke (2007) and the Hammond World Wine Atlas (2009). Several regional atlases are available including California by Halliday (1993), California and Pacific Northwest by Thompson (1993), Germany by Pigott (1995), Italy by Anderson and Pigott (1997), France by Duijker and Johnson (1997), Langhe by Petrini (2003), Canada by Aspler (2006), Australia by Halliday (2006), and New Zealand by Cooper and McDermott (2010).

Although the field of geography is the home to cartography, geographers are generally lacking from the list of producers of wine atlases and wine maps. The major exception in the United States is Donald Holtgrieve who published The California Wine Atlas (1978) and sheet maps with commentary on Napa-Sonoma (1995) and California (1997). In addition, de Blij (1986f) wrote a short article on viticultural areas and mental maps. Many journal articles and books by geographers contain excellent maps, but, in most cases, these do not appear separately or in an edited volume.

Geographers have always relied on air photos for a bird’s eye view of the earth. Aerial reconnaissance has been a great way to look at spatial patterns and analyze why distributions are the way they are. This became even more apparent with the Landsat digital image revolution in 1982 when satellite imagery became an important tool in the geographer’s arsenal of tools. Early satellite resolution at 79 m was not sufficient to assess vineyard conditions, but submeter resolution of today has opened a host of applications. It is surprising that more work is not forthcoming.

Excellent examples of work in this field include Vaudour et al. (2008) in which SPOT imagery is used to assess soil reflectance and Vaudour (2008) in which soil characteristics in the southern Rhone Valley are studied using SPOT imagery. Vadour et al. (2010) used 20-m SPOT imagery to map terroir by using bootstrapped decision trees on morphometric data and multitemporal SPOT images.

In a study of leaf area in two commercial vineyards in California’s North Coast, Johnson et al. (2003) used IKONOS high spatial resolution imagery to perform a normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) on a per pixel basis that was ground calibrated to convert the NDVI maps to a leaf area index. In another study, Johnson looked at temporal stability of an NDVI/LAI relationship in a Napa vineyard using satellite imagery. Johnson (2003) in yet another article analyzes the ­temporal stability of an NDVI–LAI relationship in a Napa Valley vineyard.

Not all of remote sensing imagery is spaceborne. Qin et al. (2010) led an interdisciplinary team, including geographers, using artificial intelligence to establish the relationship between the leaf thickness and red-edge/near-infrared (NIR) reflectance in different grape cultivars at different stages of growth. In another ground-based study, Keightley and Bawden (2010) use a tripod mounted laser scanner to generate high-­resolution volumetric measures of vegetation structure and perennial woody tissue for the calculation of standing biomass.

Geographers have used remote sensing techniques to study land use patterns with Manandhar et al. (2009) utilizing Landsat data from 1985 to 2005 to study land use changes by change detection analysis in the Lower Hunter Valley of New South Wales, Australia. On the other hand, Van Eetvelde and Antrop (2004) digitized air photos from southern France, where landscapes are in transition between new residential urbanization and land abandonment, in order to study structural changes in land use, building and field patterns from 1960 to 1999 by using GIS analysis.

Boyer and Wolf (1998) use GIS and GPS to study viticultural potential in general, and in another article (Boyer and Wolf 2000a), they use the application specifically in Virginia. Also, Boyer and Wolf (2000b) use geographical information systems (GIS) in a vineyard suitability study of Virginia by using a combination of spatial modeling and geographical information system (GIS) data. Jones (2003b) utilizes GPS and GIS to analyze varietals and management characteristics in the Umpqua Valley, and in a related study, Jones et al. (2004) perform a GIS analysis of the terroir potential of the Umpqua Valley, Oregon. In a similar study, Jones (2001) and Jones et al. (2006) use GPS and GIS to assess the viticultural status and potential of the Rogue River Valley of Oregon. Chin (2011) analyzes nine GIS variables/layers, namely, growing-degree days, length of frost-free period, minimum winter temperature, aspect, slope, soil drainage, soil pH, organic matter, and land use to determine agricultural suitability in Nebraska for Edelweiss and Cynthiana/Norton cultivars.

Although cartography, GIS, and remote sensing are taught primarily in geography departments, there are not many books or journal articles published by geographers on these topics. More viticultural research originates from agriculture and engineering ­departments. This may result from the previous departments being applied in nature, whereas most geography departments are theoretical in the larger, more prestigious universities in the US, or education oriented in many of the state universities.


In conclusion, whether it is regional analysis, comparative studies, terroir, climate, GIS analysis, diffusion studies, economic analysis, or studying cultural winescapes, the geographer is uniquely equipped to study the geography of wine. The geographer is best qualified to study the complex interaction of the physical, cultural, and economic variables that influence the type of grape and the type of wine produced in each region. Whether you call it terroir or geography, there are great differences in the wine produced in each part of the world, and it is important to recognize these differences in order to get the most enjoyment from each bottle of wine.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyKutztown UniversityKutztownUSA

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