Stunning terraced vineyards can be found in many wine regions of the world. Since the Romans inhabited several of these areas, people have been growing grapes on the steep terraces. They conquered the slopes, creating terraces to increase the acreage and prevent the soil from erosion and sliding into nearby rivers. With their hands and some rudimentary tools, plus in the region of the Douro Valley (with small/controlled dynamite explosions), they have sculpted huge and amazing works of art.
Steeply terraced vineyards, at dizzying pitches up to 70 degrees, can make life difficult for workers who harvest grapes by hand in these wine regions. Working these lands is extremely difficult as the terraces in some areas are so steep that all the grapes have to be brought in on a dumb waiter. But these hand-built terraces help produce some of the world's most distinctive wines.
The vineyard slope can be very important for several reasons: air drainage, water movement/erosion, and ease of managing with equipment. There is no perfect slope as it will depend on what is the primary limiting factor of concern. The soil of these terraced regions can be dominated by stones or porous slate which has ideal drainage for heavy rainfall and good heat retaining properties. Many of the best vineyards have no topsoil at all, just broken schist, slate and granite.
The steep terraces that are scattered around the Mosel, Rhone, Trentino and Douro regions just to name a few are considered some of the most labour intensive vineyards in the world. Mechanical harvesting is impractical and nearly seven times more man hours are needed than in more flat terrain. In areas like the Mosel and Rhone Valley grapevines are individually staked to the ground without connecting wires so that vineyard workers can tend the plants going horizontally across the vineyard rather than vertically. A benefit of these steep terraced vineyards is that the incline allows for more direct sunlight to have contact with the vines. During the winter, rain often causes some soil erosion, especially of the vital slate chips that are needed for their heat retaining properties. Many vineyards will gather these eroded sediments and carry them back up the hillside.