In Search of Bacchus

Typical soil in French vineyard

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by Jake Emling

Michigan State University

In Search of Bacchus


This study looks into the cultivation practices, marketing, and agritourism of several vineyards and wineries that can be found in Mediterranean region of southern France, Northern Italy, and the Northeast corner of Spain. All of the visited locations included in the report are considered to be small commercial size with production less than 25,000 cases a year. These wineries will be compared to similar wineries found in Michigan and will provide lessons on possible improvements on both sides.


Wine, vineyards, agritourism, sustainability, Italy, Spain, France, Michigan


During my travels this past summer I had the opportunity to visit several vineyards and wineries in the Mediterranean area of Western Europe. This included the countries of France, Spain, and Italy. These wineries were all located within several kilometers of the seaside. The majority of my trip was based in the Languedoc-Roussillon, which is located in Southern France. This particular region is unique since it has two mountain ranges on each side, the Pyrenees to the southwest and the Cevennes to the west. The combination of the mountains and the close proximity to the sea play a critical role in the viticulture practices of the region. The soil in the area consists of course sand with rocks. Heavy fertile soil is not common in the region and can only be located in certain areas. Image one is a typical example of the soil texture and image two is of a soil profile that can be commonly found in the region. The depth of image two is two meters below the soil surface. The rocks on the surface in the picture are a common type of limestone that can be found in most commercial vineyards throughout the region.

Image 1: Typical soil in French vineyard.

Image 2: Typical soil profile in French vineyard.

In regards to the climate, the region is considered to be very sunny and dry. The average temperature is 59oF. During the summer months it is not uncommon for the region to experience average daytime temperatures of the upper eighties. The
Mediterranean Sea helps to moderate the winters so freezing temperatures are rare occurrences. With the mountains in the region grapes that require cooler temperatures can be successfully grown at certain elevations. These hot summer months and warm winters provide one of the best environments for the cultivation of grapes.

There is very little difference in climate or geography in the locations of Spain and Italy that were visited. The temperatures are very similar, so are the soil types and structure; the only real difference is the amount of water that each location receives. The locations in Spain and Italy where the vineyards are planted receive more water due to the influence of the two mountains ranges in each area respectively.


The French wineries were mostly family owned and operated. Some of these wineries belonged to bigger co-ops that help the wineries in areas of marketing, equipment sharing, fruit availability and quality. The region has fifteen identified wine
appellations with the Languedoc-Roussillon. Each wine appellation has rules that deal with fruit quality, harvest dates, viticulture practices and varieties grown for example.

In the Northeast corner of Spain (close to the French border), on the other side of the mountain in Italy the vineyards and wineries operate in different ways. For instance Most of my time was spent working at the experimental and commercial
vineyards operated by INRA located at Pech Rouge. This small village is located roughly 15 kilometers south of Narbonne on the seaside very close to Gurissan. This particular area was in the Corbieres appellation. Under the rules in the area, red wines need at least to be made from a blend of two different grape varieties with certain grapes having to makeup fifty percent of the blend. Similar rules apply for rose wines and white wines with stricter rules on the varieties that can be used and at what percentages. At Pech Rouge for instance, the site produces both table grapes, juice grapes, and wine grapes.
The juice and wine produced onsite is sold throughout the area at local businesses and at the winery on the property. The money produced from these activities help to fund the day-to-day operations of the site and for certain research projects.

These rules help to control the wine produced in the area and to ensure certain standards between wineries in the same appellation. This directly affects the entrepreneurial activity of each business.


The strength of the French wineries


Additional Information / Sources
Images 1 and 2: Photo credit: Jake Emling, taken in late July in the Languedoc-Roussillon region North of Montpellier, France.