Have you ever wondered how wine grapes are grown in what seems like difficult climates like South America, Germany, South Africa, and Canada? The answer lies in mitigating factors such as choice of grape, proximity to bodies of water, currents, winds, altitude, aspect, mountain ranges, and even types of soils.
Choice of grape is important when planting a vineyard. One needs to plant grapes that will have sufficient time to ripen given the climate of the specific region. If we look to the Finger Lakes region of New York or even Vermont, we see grapes planted with cold hardy varieties, like Riesling, or hybrid grapes like Traminette, Vidal Blanc, or Frontenac, among others. As for red varieties, you may see hybrids, or perhaps Cabernet Franc, which need less warmth and ripening time than grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon.
Proximities to bodies of water makes a big difference in the ability to grow grapes. Big bodies of water cool down slowly as temperatures drop and therefore keep the temperatures of the area more temperate for longer periods of time. Having an ocean nearby provides moisture and breezes that can help.
In Germany, where the climate is often on the edge of being warm enough to ripen grapes, grapes are often planted on the steep slopes along the river, like the Mosel. The steepness of the vineyards means that all the grapes get as much sun as possible, and the reflection of the sun off the river itself helps to warm the vineyard. The soils are often made of slate, which absorbs the warmth of the sun and warms overnight, as the overall temperatures fall.
South African vineyards are most planted along the south and western coast. Temperatures are high here; however, the icy Benguela Current, which heads north from Antarctica and along the western coast of the region, helps to reduce temperatures. Another factor here is The Cape Doctor, a seasonal wind that sweeps through the region, clearing pollution and bringing fair weather.
Other winds that influence grape growing are the Mistral, which impacts Provence; the Rhône Valley in France; and the Siroccos in Sicily. The winds dry out the vineyards and remove fog which helps prevent molds and mildews as well as impacts temperatures. In California, while Petaluma Gap isn’t a wind per se, the gap itself allows ocean breezes to flow into the mountains, providing a cooling effect which slows down ripening and reduces overall temperatures.
The “rain shadow effect” is a term used when a mountain range blocks rain and wind coming from coastal regions. This is seen in places like California, Washington State, New Zealand, and Alsace, France. In Alsace, the Vosges mountains to the west protect the wine-growing region to their east. If the mountains didn’t stop the rain and winds, the region wouldn’t be able to grow grapes at all.
Places like Chile, Argentina, California, and many others rely on altitude to mitigate weather. The higher you go, the lower the temperature. For every 1,000 feet, the temperature decreases about 3.5 degrees. This allows grape growing to happen in hot climates.
Despite being very dry, Chile also can grow grapes well, due to the Andes mountains. The mountains gain lots of snow at their peaks, and the melting snow provides the much-needed irrigation that the region needs for grape growing. Chile also benefits from the Humboldt Current, flowing up from Antarctica.
There are so many natural factors that influence grape growing all around the world that it would takes tomes to list them all. We hope you enjoyed this short glimpse into some of them, and the types of things that make a big difference and allow wine to be made well, all around the world.