European vineyards: crunching the numbers

Eurostat recently published the latest numbers on vineyard structure in the European Union.

I’ll spare you all the details, you can check for yourself at:

Let’s focus on the interesting stuff.

Spain is still the #1 country with the largest area under vine: 941,000 ha, that’s a massive 30% of the EU total. But each year France and Italy battle for largest total wine production, not Spain. How come?

Enter the region Castilla-La Mancha. This vast autonomous region, squeezed in between Madrid and Valencia, accounts for the largest wine production area, a whopping 434,000 ha. That’s 46% of Spain’s total and almost 14% of the EU total!

Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha boasts the largest vineyard region

The culprit? The Airén grape. No worries if you’ve never heard of it, but it is in fact the most widely planted white grape variety in the world. As wine, it produces neutral, unexciting plunk that is refreshing at best when served cold. Some is used as cheap addition to white blends but most of this grape’s juice is distilled for brandy production. Compare it to Ugni Blanc in France, that is mostly used to make Cognac & Armagnac.

Spain is not the only country with a large area under vine. Sicily in Italy (16% of Italy total, for example where there is still a lot of wine produced for the bulk market. Rheinhessen in Germany (49%!), home to the infamous Liebfraumilch. And of course, the Languedoc-Roussilion in France, the 2nd largest vineyard region (after Castilla-La Mancha).

Despite the impressive 3,2 million ha vineyard, the average holding is still 1,3 ha. That’s roughly 4,000-18,000 bottles, depending on the winegrower’s desired yield. Not much if your livelihood depends on wine making.

The country with the smallest holdings are mostly commercially less known, like Romania, Malta and Croatia. Rather surprisingly, Portugal also ranks in the top 10, with 0.9 average. Many farmers still grow vines for larger wine co-operations.

France tops the list with an average of 10.5 ha. Peanuts when you compare it to estates in New World countries like Chili. Winery Viña San Pedro for example measures 1.200 ha and produces the world wide known GatoNegro brand.

Most of the vineyard area in countries is dedicated to quality wine. That’s wine with either a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protection of Geographical Indication (PGI) qualification.

However, country specific labelling is still allowed, so you still see many bottles without these official denominations. For example, the French PDO equivalent is Appelation d’Origine Controlée, and in Italy you still see many labels with Indicazione Geografica Tipica as opposed to Indicazione Geografica Protetta.

Vineyards Santorini

It’s interesting to see that in Greece, almost 75% of the quality vineyard area is dedicated to PGI. This is partly because Greek PGI wines are often a blend of local and international grapes, a combination driven by home market demand. To protect indigenous grape cultivation, international varieties are usually not allowed in Greece at PDO level.

In France, it is just the other way around. Not surprising with its long history of terroir driven protection laws that make up the Appellation system. Of the 25% IGP area, Pays d’Oc is responsible for the largest chunk.

I wonder in which year official data on Belgium and The Netherlands can be included. We are still miles away from the 500 ha entry level.

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