- On August 8, 2018
Climate is defined as the “long term weather pattern of an area,” and climate is critical to the wine industry. Pick up a book about grapes or vineyards, and soon you’ll be swimming in different terms with the word climate in them. Macroclimate refers to an entire area, such as Chianti or Sonoma, while Mesoclimate applies to a single vineyard or hillside. Microclimate is even more specific, only referring to a single row of vines! When someone wants to make generalizations about growing characteristics, they are typically interested in macroclimate.
Each grape variety has particular climatic needs to reach its full potential. That’s why each of the traditional wine regions of Europe(i.e. Macroclimates) tend to have their own particular local varieties. After an entire century of trial and error here in the US, many regions here have honed in on ideal varieties as well. It’s no accident that the Willamette Valley in Oregon is known for Pinot Noir, or that most US Rieslings come from Washington State.
Many of the most beloved wine areas are considered “cool climates”. These areas have an average mean growing season temperature of less than 60℉, and include much of Northern France, Germany, and Austria. In the US, the Columbia Valley in Washington and Oregon, as well as Carneros and the Anderson Valley all fit this definition. The major reason these areas produce so many wonderful wines boils down to the way cool weather affects grapes as the finish ripening, and the constraints that same weather puts on where they will actually be able to ripen.
If given abundant sunlight and warmth, grape vines will continue to produce sugar to very high levels. Sugar is what makes the alcohol in wine, and ripe grapes also have more developed skins for making red wines. As the grapes ripen, higher temperatures raise the vine’s metabolism and malic acid is converted into other compounds. Malic acid is very important to wine quality, helping to preserve the wine and also make it taste bright and crisp. This means that wines from cool climates have more acidity giving them both brightness and character in their youth as well as a potential for ageing. The other side of the coin is that these areas are right on the edge of what is possible for the grapes to still ripen effectively, forcing producers to stick to the small areas where the most sunshine hits the grapes. This lack of large open winegrowing areas means that there is less opportunity to grow grapes for cheap, low quality wines.
With climate change, many areas that were once too cold for ripening any wine at all are becoming viable, while other areas are becoming too warm or stormy. The wine industry is one of the most forward thinking about solutions to our effect on the planet. For them, it isn’t just people in coastal cities and exotic animals, but their livelihood and passion at risk.
British bubbly is just the tip of the iceberg. We couldn’t have picked a more timely topic for the blog. After you’re done reading, check out this article published August 6th in the New York times: https://nyti.ms/2OgQgPy