Industrial and Traditional Viticulture

‘The vine is born in the vineyard’, this is one of the phrases that we often hear when we visit a winery. Before finding out how a wine is produced, it is essential to know where it comes from. For this reason, we are going to analyse how the landscape of wine-growing has evolved since the establishment of industrial agriculture.


Viñedos by SOPHOCO (CC by 2.0)

Industrial agriculture has developed a lot since the Second World War due to the need to provide food for a population with scarce resources. Just as in agriculture, technological advancement in wine-growing started towards the end of the 1940s, although it didn’t arrive in Spain until the 1960s.

According to the FAO (Food & Agriculture Organisation), ‘Industrial agriculture is based on the mass cultivation of food products for consumption by humans. It involves a high level of technological advancement and requires a high investment of capital, energy, natural and artificial resources. It normally requires external work and specialist advice.’

The state promoted industrialisation of the sector, introducing irrigation techniques, fertilisers, chemical herbicides and machinery. In addition, the most productive clones were being introduced into the largest regions’ vineyards, in some cases substituting the native varieties. Industrialisation also involved the homogenisation of processes, systematic fertilisation and regular chemical treatment so that the vineyard didn’t suffer any type of illness, and therefore they could guarantee the harvest.

The widespread use of fertilisers increased production towards the end of the 1960s, so much so that it fostered the appearance of large industrial wineries. These wineries could produce a great quantity of bottles, which generated an economy of scale and a concentration regarding the number of wineries.

The process of industrialisation in the sector, and in the market in general, in rural areas of traditional wine-making like Priorat, Gredos, Ribeira Sacra or Bierzo (with a complicated and difficult orography to mechanise), caused vineyards to be abandoned or not developed as much as other Spanish regions such as La Mancha, La Rioja and Castilla-León.

Since the 1990s, when the predominant viticulture was industrial, wine-growers with an interest in restoring the character and identity of the regions returned to traditional methods, incorporating the technical knowledge they had acquired in the years of industrialisation.

Traditional agriculture is a production system based on the knowledge and ancestral experience that has been developed throughout history. It is carried out on a small amount of cultivatable land in order to observe the plants better and therefore be able to anticipate future diseases. The fertilisation of the soil is not done in a systematic way and so each year they analyse the possible deficiencies that the plants could have. From this, ecological and biodynamic agriculture is derived.

Many of the areas that were abandoned are now the standard bearers for Spanish wines. These emerging areas that keep growing based on traditional and sustainable agriculture include Comando G in Gredos, Raúl Perez and Ricardo Palacios in Bierzo, Sara Pérez and Rene Barbier in Montsant-Priorato, 4 Kilos in Mallorca and the restoration projects by the Envínate team in remote areas in Tenerife. Also in large areas such as Ribera del Duero, with people like Jorge Monzón from Dominio del Águila or in La Rioja with Roberto Olivan, they are looking to return the territory’s identity at a small-medium scale.

Nowadays, the two types of viticulture live side by side. There is feedback between them, to contribute knowledge and in an attempt to carry out industrial viticulture in a more sustainable way, reducing the use of chemical products and trying to achieve an integrated viticulture.

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