EU project The Wine Lab - Generating Innovation between Practice and Research creates the foundation for a dialogue among research, business and regional communities, including Universities in Agriculture, Oenology and related fields, and small wineries, mainly those located in disadvantaged areas, to stimulate knowledge flow, share challenges and solutions, and jointly generate and accelerate innovation in the wine sector. The project fosters clustering and networking, provides for learning opportunities, applies action alongside experiential research and learning and capitalises on knowledge towards new methods and approaches in policy planning. This model of intervention can be further mainstreamed to other fields such as food production and agri-tourism.

The context

Europe is a leading wine producer, producing around 175m hl every year and accounting for 45% of wine-growing areas, 65% of production, 57% of global consumption and 70% of exports in global terms (DG Agriculture data). The wine sector permeates many levels of the European life, contributing significantly in socio-economic, environmental and societal terms: where vines grace the landscape, the wine sector provides employment to millions, helping sustain the fabric of rural societies and maintain a way of life that is central to the very notion of European identity (Comité Européen des entreprises de Vin/ CEEV).

However, the wine sector is composed by an overwhelming majority of small producers, being extremely atomised in comparison with other food and drinks industries (DG Agriculture data) and, thus, quite fragmented, particularly in Europe (Anderson, 2001; Visser, 2004).

The challenge

Small and micro wineries share similar challenges with same size companies in other sectors (sales, marketing, accounting, ordering, collections, compliance, packaging and shipping, etc.) while also dealing with significant sector-specific challenges related to:

• Territory, i.e. small size vineyards are not always contiguous and are often found in terraces and small size vineries;
• Labour-intensity, i.e. production from 800 to 1600 h/ha;
• Variety in grape typologies (high presence of autochthons vines) in small quantity, i.e. many niche products with high biodiversity;
• Location, i.e. vineyards located in areas of relevant environmental interest or in areas where they are not the main economic activity and source of income;
• Isolation, i.e. limited access to learning opportunities against the need for a range of competences, complementary to those needed for production per se, and little capacity for networking.

Background research has shown that the ability to seize market opportunities - a typical trait of entrepreneurs, varies according to the management style of the winery and its location (Gilinsky et al., 2008). Moreover, it is widely recognised that small wineries achieve better performance when networked or clustered (Visser 2004; Porter, 1998; Giuliani & Bell, 2004). However, since smaller wineries are mostly active in informal networking, companies located in geographically disadvantaged areas have difficulties in establishing such contacts, crucial for their survival.

The project

The project provides for the development of:

• hubs (clusters) as groups of interest and learning communities, involving wine producers, researchers, higher education students, public and private stakeholders in the wine sector;
• opportunities for higher education students to develop entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial mindset, through traineeship and internship;
• mechanisms for structured sharing of knowledge between research and business;
• innovative methods and tools to exploit knowledge at regional level, and link regional to national and European levels;
• new forms of cooperation between universities and enterprises to increase lifelong learning opportunities;
• tools and instruments able to provide timely and tailored answers to learning needs;
• review exercises to integrate hubs’ knowledge into university curricula;
• policy debates through dialogue between regional hubs and decision-makers.

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