Climate change and socioeconomic challenges threaten heroic viticulture

In a recent publication in the journal iScience, researchers are calling for collaborative efforts between farmers and scientists to safeguard the world’s renowned vineyards nestled in the hills of Italy, Portugal, and Spain. These vineyards, known for their exceptional flavors and centuries-old traditions, are facing increasing difficulties due to extreme weather events and changing socioeconomic conditions, putting the grapes and their cultural histories at risk.

Referred to as “heroic viticulture,” these vineyards earn their title if they are located on steep slopes exceeding 30%, situated on small islands or at altitudes higher than 500 meters above sea level, or incorporate terraced vine cultivation. The term “heroic” aptly captures the immense challenges associated with cultivating and harvesting crops in such demanding landscapes.

Examples of heroic viticulture sites include the Prosecco Hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene and the traditional vineyards of Pantelleria Island, both of which are protected by UNESCO due to their cultural significance.

The researchers emphasize that the risk extends beyond the loss of an agricultural product or alterations to the landscape, which can negatively impact local economies. They argue that the true risk lies in losing the historical narratives and cultural roots of entire communities.

In their publication, the authors outline soil degradation and drought as the primary climate change-related risks confronting heroic viticulture. Furthermore, these vineyards face significant socioeconomic barriers, with rural depopulation and a gradual abandonment of mountainous regions observed over the past few decades. The younger generation is often reluctant to continue the arduous work under extreme conditions when the economic benefits are meager.

To protect heroic viticulture sites, the authors propose several potential solutions. These range from strategic communications aimed at fostering collaboration among scientists, farmers, and consumers, to on-site measures such as integrating small water storage systems into the vineyard landscapes to prevent runoff and ensure water availability. The authors also stress the importance of education, particularly in enlightening the younger generation about the advantages of rural life, the need to preserve cultural heritage, harmonious coexistence with the environment, and adopting sustainable agricultural practices.

The authors contend that success lies in combining the traditional knowledge of winemakers with innovation and scientific rigor. By forging strong partnerships between farms and scientists, investments can be optimized to create more functional, sustainable, and secure agricultural landscapes. This alliance is crucial for tackling the various challenges posed by both natural forces and human activities.

Source: Cell Press

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