In a context of rapidly urbanizing societies, farmland abandonment is widely observed and a specific need has emerged to survey concomitant agricultural land use changes. Some large scientific reviews and meta-analyses have recently been published on this topic in Europe, their results showing the prime importance of land abandonment among the wide range of trajectories of land use changes [1
]. Land abandonment indeed affects large surface areas [4
] and may impact agricultural productivity, landscape closure, or biodiversity [5
]. Underlying drivers of agricultural abandonment are part of a complex combination of spatial processes that have hitherto not been fully described and understood [3
]. Explanatory case studies are thus still required, especially with a focus on non-marginal areas [6
]. These cases involve a wide range of complex drivers and there is a need to document the extent of abandoned land, the stages of abandonment, and the factors leading to the abandonment of particular plots [5
French vineyards appear well-suited to reach this objective, especially in regions now facing a decrease in the spatial extent of vineyards, such as the Mediterranean areas and Beaujolais [7
]. In the latter cases, some changes during the recent period (since the 1990s) have affected the resilience of vineyards. They were indeed affected by international economic competition (e.g., competition with South American, Australian, South African, and Spanish wines), followed by new consumer demands in terms of public health and well-being (e.g., organic growing and reduction of pesticides). In addition, environmental changes (e.g., soil erosion, urban pressure, and climate change) have profoundly modified the functioning of vineyards as socioeconomic systems [9
Among the French vineyards, the Beaujolais area has not been studied, although its location is strategic for addressing two main issues regarding land abandonment: the return to the natural environment due to land abandonment [12
] and the threat from suburbanization [8
]. The Beaujolais area is indeed located close to the Lyon metropolitan area (2 million inhabitants) but also close to the deep rural areas to the west (population density lower than 20 inhabitants/km2
). This region can thus be influenced by some contradictory driving forces. Furthermore, Beaujolais exhibits many proxies of a collapse of the vineyard system: (i) reductions in the area devoted to vineyards [13
], (ii) decreases in vineyard land prices ranging from 30% to 70% over a decade [14
], and (iii) the fact that approximately one-third of the winegrowers are going to retire without any succession in the next decade [14
]. As vineyards perform additional economic, environmental, and sociocultural functions in rural areas [15
], stakeholders wonder how this may threaten the organization of the whole territory [9
In this paper, we seek to document the spatial patterns of vineyard abandonment in Beaujolais and characterize the primary factors driving the abandonment. Spatial patterns were evaluated at three complementary scales to address three main issues. First, an overview of the evolution of agricultural landscapes and practices at the regional scale is provided for the whole Beaujolais area since 1990. The objective at this scale was to decipher the abandonment patterns linked, on the one hand, to the suburbanization of the Lyon conurbation and, on the other hand, the spread of natural vegetation. Second, we documented the land use evolution related to vineyard abandonment at a more local scale in three areas (lower Ardières, Marverand, Merloux) that exemplify the main local settings. We coupled an examination of aerial photographs acquired at three dates (2017, 2007, 1999) with field investigations (observation of vegetation cover, interview of stakeholders) to draw diachronic maps. The objective was to highlight the main transitions (i.e., type and rate of land use conversion) that occurred at the plot scale for the last two decades. Third, at a fine scale, we explain the precise location of abandoned parcels regarding the site characteristics (e.g., incoming solar radiation, slope gradient, terroir quality). Collectively, these data seek to provide a typology of the processes resulting in the abandonment of vineyards and quantify the concomitant impacts on the landscape.
2. Study Area
2.1. Physical Settings and Land Use
Located in the lower part of the Saône catchment, in the northern part of the Rhône department, the Beaujolais wine region is approximately fifty kilometers long from the northern Lyon conurbation to the southern Mâcon (Figure 1
). The vineyards are more precisely located along the eastern hillslopes of the Massif Central and are bounded further east by the alluvial plain of the Saône River. Regarding the climate, the annual precipitation is approximately 850 mm and is regularly distributed throughout the year. The area receives approximately 1900 h of solar radiation per year, and hot temperatures exceeding 30 °C are quite typical during summer [18
At the regional scale, the Beaujolais landscape can be subdivided into three main components (Figure 1
The western part of Beaujolais (named “green Beaujolais”) corresponds to the highest altitudes (summits can reach 800 to 900 m.asl) and is characterized by a mixed landscape that alternates between forested areas (logging) and grasslands (extensive grazing). Only a few towns and isolated farms are located in this subregion, where inhabitant density is low (ranging from 10 to 100 inhabitants/km2
). Defined as a deep rural area, this subregion is considered affected by a general trend of economic and agricultural decrease [14
To the east, the altitudes decrease towards the alluvial plain of the Saône River (approximately 170 m.asl). Below 450 to 500 m.asl, wine growing is a dominant activity, especially on hillslopes.
Grazing meadows, cereal crops, and vegetable farms were observed in the valley bottoms and in the Saône alluvial plain [14
]. This area encompasses the two main cities of Beaujolais: Villefranche-sur-Saône (37,000 inhabitants) and Belleville-en-Beaujolais (8000 inhabitants). These two cities provide jobs related to administrative and commercial activities, as well as transport services that provide easy access to Lyon and Mâcon. As a consequence, the processes of urban sprawl from Villefranche-sur-Saône and Belleville-en-Beaujolais can be qualitatively observed, but these processes have been only infrequently documented.
2.2. Diversity of Beaujolais Appellations
The Beaujolais vineyard encompasses three main types of appellations (Figure 2
), which are well differentiated in the hierarchy of wine classifications.
The regular and regional wine appellation is “AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) Beaujolais”. The wines are mainly produced south of Villefranche-sur-Saône and to a lesser extent in the northern part of Beaujolais, along the Saône River. The main characteristic of this appellation is related to the soils developed over calcareous rocks or alluvial regoliths. The name of the appellation may be supplemented by the words “new” or “early”, which corresponds to the wines authorized for early selling. Generally, these wines are considered lower quality than those mentioned below.
A second regional appellation is “AOC Beaujolais-village”, which corresponds to the wines produced in the delimited territory of the 38 communes north of Villefranche-sur-Saône. Wine from the “village” terroir is considered to be of intermediate quality.
The third type of appellation is the “AOC Cru-du-Beaujolais”, which is made of 10 local vintages (Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Morgon, Régnié, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Chénas, Juliénas, Saint-Amour, and Moulin-à-Vent). These vintages are considered the best quality and are located on the best terroirs: steep slope vineyards with southern and southeastern aspects. The main distinction between the terroirs relies on the geology, which can be made of granite, schist, or other resistant metamorphic or volcanic rocks (diorite, tuf).
The distinction between a vintage and a regular AOC is important in terms of wine prices and vineyard plot prices. Vintage wine bottles are sold at higher prices but are also considered by consumers to be of higher quality, which means that wine growers may be less affected by international economic competition. This trend can be exemplified by the price per hectare of wine plots. From 2011 to 2018, the average prices ranged from €91,000 per hectare for land producing vintage Moulin-à-Vent (northern AOC Cru-du-Beaujolais) to €11,000 in a simple Beaujolais appellation (southern AOC Beaujolais) [14
2.3. Brief History of Beaujolais Vineyards
The Beaujolais wine economic system has been experiencing an economic crisis for over 20 years, especially because of a controversial reputation. Since the mid-20th century, “Beaujolais nouveau” (i.e., early Beaujolais) is considered of moderate quality and is sold during celebrations at the end of November. It is sold very soon after grape harvesting. While this celebration of an early and quick macerated wine has ensured the reputation and wide diffusion of Beaujolais nouveau during the 1980s and 1990s, current changes in consumer demand tend to reduce its economic opportunities. Such celebrations are counterproductive in terms of marketing, as wine consumers now prefer wines of better quality in terms of taste but also in terms of wine-growing practices (reduced pesticide use, increased adoption of organic practices). In this context, Beaujolais vineyards furthermore cope with two external drivers that act at a more regional scale (Figure 3
). On the one hand, the demographic growth of the Lyon metropolitan area has generated urban sprawl since the 2000s, especially along the Saône River and around secondary cities (e.g., Amplepuis and Tarare). On the other hand, the green Beaujolais area is subject to general abandonment (population and economic decrease) that in some areas results in natural vegetation spreading and a consequent increase in forested surface areas. Combined with international economic competition (especially with Spain, South America, South Africa, and Australia), these driving factors have led to a current crisis conveyed through (i) a decrease in production of nearly one-third between 2000 and 2012 [14
] and (ii) a reduction of approximately 20% (4400 hectares) in the vineyard surface area (Figure 3
The impact of vineyard abandonment on the landscape can be observed even if it has not been hitherto quantified. The concomitant expansion of forest and urban areas is among the most frequent modifications perceived by stakeholders and observed in the field (Figure 4
). These trends had to be confirmed through an exhaustive survey, particularly because abandoned parcels of vineyards may have variable vegetation characteristics in Beaujolais (Figure 4
). Many abandoned parcels were indeed affected by a complete removal of vineyards, making them very similar to grassland after abandonment (Figure 4
). To conserve biodiversity of open habitats that are threatened by shrub encroachment and landscape closure [19
], the European Union and the Rhône Department offered financial incentives to owners who agreed to remove vineyards between 2000 and 2010. It also encouraged the reduction in annual production and rebalanced the prices of Beaujolais wine.
All of Beaujolais is affected by suburbanization processes from the Lyon metropolitan area. However, while a significant rejuvenation of farmers occurred in both green Beaujolais and the Saône plain, aging vine growers generated a context that promotes vineyard abandonment. Vineyard surface extent has indeed decreased since the beginning of the 21st century in Beaujolais, but the spatial patterns were significantly different in the northern part of the vineyards compared to in the southern part. Approximately one-third of the surface area has disappeared southward in the Marverand and Merloux areas (−30% and −29%, respectively), while the decrease has been significantly lower to the north in the lower Ardières area (−5%). Such heterogeneity revealed the locations of terroirs of better quality. Furthermore, the drivers behind the abandonment of vineyards differed among the areas. In northern Beaujolais, the winegrowers tended to abandon vine parcels that were considered of lower quality, while in southern Beaujolais, the winegrowers tended to abandon vine parcels in relation to the difficulty of maintenance (remote and steep parcels were preferentially abandoned) or in relation to the opportunity to convert the plot into building land.
While vineyard abandonment is typically associated with a return to the natural environment, we showed that most of the abandoned parcels were converted into grassland (34% to 43% of all the changes we identified in the three studied areas). These results showed that the landscape was maintained for both environmental and economic reasons. Many owners believe that a clean parcel will be more easily sold to create new built-up areas or to develop new agricultural activity. We highlighted that the conversion into grasslands may be a temporary stage within a complex transition between vineyard abandonment and the emergence of another activity. Many stakeholders are thus eager to create new built areas or to develop new agricultural activity. The latter point can be a great opportunity to contribute to the current debate on local agriculture to provide agrifood products that would aid the conversion of grassland and abandoned parcels to promote sustainable development.