Ultimate Guide to the Corsica Wine Region

Corsican Wine Region Agriculture

Wine production is an ancient t­radition in Corsica, dating back more than 2,000 years, but the practice has waxed and waned. Foreign invasions actually affected where Corsicans raised their grapes. To avoid invaders, many Corsicans took to the mountains, abandoning sunny coastal valleys with ideal growing conditions [source: Berberoglu].

Throughout its history, Corsica's Mediterranean climate has favored the raising of the grape. The island gets considerably more sunshine than continental France does, and a lot less rain during the summer months. Corsican vines are grown in various types of soil. The Nielluccio vine grows in chalky limestone in the Patrimonio area to the north, while the western half of the island is dominated by granite hills in which the native Sciacarello vine thrives, even at high elevations [source: To Know More About Wines].

The island's agriculture prospered in the early 20th century; it became one of Europe's leaders in production of wine and olive oil. After World War II, however, the island's cupboard went nearly bare, due to a population exodus, overseas competition and other factors [source: Lobrano]. Following the defeat of French colonialism in the African colony of Algeria, a number of repatriated Algerian settlers -- called pieds noirs -- immigrated to Corsica and set up large, mechanized vineyards on the plains, as well as groves of clementines. These efforts revived the island's agriculture, but at a cost. The pieds noirs grew French rather than native grapes, producing and exporting vast quantities of cheap wine. Travel writer Paul Theroux characterized the wine as "little more than red ink" [source: Theroux]. Sales plummeted, and in time, the government stepped in to regulate the industry, imposing the French quality-control system of appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC; "controlled term of origin") [source: Berberoglu].

Traditionalists resist the spread of French and "international" vines such as Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon in the wine region of Corsica, preferring to revive the native species most suited to the growing conditions and local cuisine. Presently, Corsica is experiencing a revival of traditional agriculture and gourmet products such as wine, cheese, olive oil, honey and charcuterie.