One of the most striking things you see when arriving in the National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Cinque Terre, after you acclimate yourself to the incredible blue sea that stretches before you or the charmingly colorful houses that hug each other hanging over the cliffs, are the terraced hills laced with vineyards sweeping up to the Mediterranean sun above.
The hills that separate these Cinque Terre, or five lands, are neatly lined with hand built dry stone walls that support the many small wine producers in the national park. The fragility of this region can’t be ignored as you hike one of the many trails that winds through the vineyards connecting the villages, seeing remains of houses and livelihoods washed away in floods and landslides of the previous years. Though there are many factors at play when we talk about the delicate balance between man and nature in the park (and in the world), one of the most visible is the terracing system that you are walking through, gazing at, or reaping the benefits of every time you sip a glass of the cool, dry whites, or the sweet and rich sciacchetrà, the dessert wine of the region.
The terraces function as a way to support the structure of the hills around the villages, and their continued use and development is increasingly more important in a continually changing climate. These mostly small, many family run wine producers, are providing more then just wines, they are helping support the land- literally- and so are you when you support their products. And it’s not easy. Centuries of heavy labor, working with the difficult land here instead of against it, bringing grapes up and down steep mountainsides by hand, under the hot sun, makes a long day’s work, a hard trade, but an incredible story and product.
Preserving the terraces is integral for preserving the national park, the land, and a beautifully ancient and difficult tradition of winemaking in this little slice of paradise. And drinking local wine is a wonderful way to help out.