This word, indicating to many simply a paved elevated walk or outside extension of a room above the garden, has a different significance in the world of wine. The terracing of vineyards is done for several reasons: the walls that hold the terraces in place prevent the topsoil and, in some regions most or all the soil being swept away down hillsides in winds or heavy rains. The vines can be planted so as to follow the contours of steep slopes, sometimes only a few vinestocks or one row of them being planted on a terrace which, otherwise, might simply remain an uncultivated escarpment. The exposure of the wines to the air and the sun – their aspect – can be arranged by terracing so that they are adequately aerated, avoid the risk of frost from the ground, and enjoy the maximum advantages of the angle at which the sun strikes them. In river valleys, too, they also profit by the reflection of the sun on the water, which they would miss if planted thickly or in the flatter areas near the water. The vine, as grown on steep or at least sloping plots, also enjoys good drainage: it will be sheltered from the worst of the weather, if it is not too exposed (as at the top of a slope), but water draining from the top of the slope and going on down will not make the roots soggy. ‘The vine likes to see the river but not to get its feet wet’ is a Bordeaux saying, and the composition of the subsoil is of enormous importance.
In the past, terraces were much used, to hold the vinestocks in place as well as for the reasons previously given. In the vineyards near St Emilion, remains of Roman plantations can be seen, somewhat like stone troughs on the hillside. There are numerous and noticeable traces of terracing, like ghosts of vineyards, in many wine regions including England. The cultivation of some fruits in this way, to achieve maximum light and sun, is also traditional. However the use of mechanical cultivators has changed much in the terraced vineyards: it is necessary for a very small tractor to be used in many, so that it can be manoeuvred along a terrace on which one or two rows of vines are planted. Even so, the hand of man is necessary for the cultivation of the sort of vineyards seen on the Mosel, where the steepness is such that an ordinary visitor finds it difficult to keep a footing. Visitors will notice a few vines on tiny outcrops that one would think it impossible even for a goat to reach!
The ‘high cultivation1 method, as worked out by Lenz Moser in Austria has made it possible for vines to be tended without the time-consuming and expensive laying-out of terraces. In Sicily, the Barone de Villagrande has abandoned some of his terraced vineyards in favour of slopes, because machines (labour is in short supply) can work these. The future use of mechanical pickers will certainly encourage the abandonment of terracing in many vineyards that want to produce wine of everyday or medium quality. At the same time, when space is limited, terracing must continue in some areas. In Madeira for example, where trellises of vines are cultivated fairly high with room for a second crop of market produce underneath them, the fertile soil – and limitations of ground make this imperative.