The aim of this study was to enable a quantitative comparison of initial soil erosion processes in European vineyards using the same methodology and equipment. The study was conducted in four viticultural areas with different characteristics (Valencia and Málaga in Spain, Ruwer-Mosel valley and Saar-Mosel valley in Germany). Old and young vineyards, with conventional and ecological planting and management systems were compared. The same portable rainfall simulator with identical rainfall intensity (40 mm h− 1) and sampling intervals (30 min of test duration, collecting the samples at 5-min-intervals) was used over a circular test plot with 0.28 m2. The results of 83 simulations have been analysed and correlation coefficients were calculated for each study area to identify the relationship between environmental plot characteristics, soil texture, soil erosion, runoff and infiltration. The results allow for identification of the main factors related to soil properties, topography and management, which control soil erosion processes in vineyards. The most important factors influencing soil erosion and runoff were the vegetation cover for the ecological German vineyards (with 97.6 ± 8% infiltration coefficients) and stone cover, soil moisture and slope steepness for the conventional land uses.