© Shutterstock|Mendoza is house to a few of the most famous high-altitude vineyards in the world.
Altitude and mountains have ended up being crucial vineyard buzzwords, so I smiled when I check out Davide Bortone’s tirade, ‘Trentodoc makes Mountains out of Molehills’ about the area’s so-called ‘mountain bubbles’ from vineyards that are not that high at all. Bortone’s argument rang a familiar bell.
Regional marketing/PR departments, brand supervisors and even vineyard owners like to bandy around how high their vineyards are, explaining why that’s such a terrific thing in times of warming climate. It will put more freshness into your glass, they declare, provide more balance to the white wine. ‘How fortunate we are to have these high vineyards,’ they gloat.
What is a mountain vineyard anyhow? And exactly how high are these vineyards? Is the height above water level truly the secret to freshness? And is this measure the most important one? No, unless it’s positioned into context, elevation may not be substantial.
Bortone mentioned that a big bulk of vineyards growing grapes for Trentodoc lie below 500m or 1650 feet, the minimum level he thinks about specifies a ‘mountain vineyard’.
The very same figure of 500m is used by CERVIM, a Europe-based association that promotes the understanding of mountain viticulture. Its focus is not just on high-altitude vineyards, it also highlights those on high slopes, and consists of some northern Beaujolais vineyards amongst its members.
My eyes rolled when on a visit last summertime to the Muscadet area, I was shown with pride the highest altitude Muscadet vineyard on a supposedly steep hill– it was at 80m on a really mild slope. The manufacturer who took me there looked rather sheepish when I revealed I invested most of my time in the vineyards of the French Alps or in the Jura wine area, considered by many people as France’s ultimate mountain vineyards.
The following reality may amaze Bortone, who, after all, is an expert in Italian red wine regions: there is not one Jura AOC vineyard above 450m and the majority of them lie between 300-350m. Even the Savoie vineyards, which like Trentodoc depend on Alpine territory, are sited generally below 400m altitude. Undoubtedly, the main appellation ‘cahier de charges’ or blueprint explains the vineyards as lying between 250m and 500m.
Savoie’s existing promotional catchphrase, used by its promo organization, is a play on words: ‘les vins qui montent’ … ‘white wines on the up’. Until just recently the area vaunted itself as having the highest vineyards in France. Near to France’s Mont Blanc and the most popular ski fields, it’s an obvious romantic understanding, however there are a number of much greater vineyards further south in the Clairette de Die region and in the small IGP Hautes-Alpes. In the Pyrenean Mountain foothills, the Côtes du Roussillon vineyards are climbing up greater too.
The Swiss are no complete strangers to boasting about vineyard altitude, with their impressively high mountain vineyards in Valais culminating in Visperterminen at around 1100m, as soon as vaunted as Europe’s highest. They are not the greatest in Europe, a claim held on the mainland by Spain for its vineyards in the Sierra de la Contraviesa in Andalucia, and there are higher vineyards still on the island of Tenerife.
© Shutterstock|’High-altitude’ wines bring a particular prestige.
The world’s highest vineyards are traditionally cited as remaining in Bolivia and Argentina in South America’s Andean foothills, reaching over 3000m, and now there are some Asian vineyards can be found in even higher. But it’s worth keeping in mind that on both continents these vineyards lie far closer to the Equator than vineyards in Europe– latitude is a significant element to think about.
Altitude meet latitude
Elevation mindset is not confined to Europe. For several years California has vaunted the creativity of its ‘mountain’ vineyards. It utilizes the word ‘mountain’ rather neatly to differentiate the vineyards from those on the broad California valley floors and these do certainly include some amazing websites in the Santa Cruz Mountains, in Napa’s Mount Veeder, among numerous other examples.
In Napa Valley’s Atlas Peak, the Gallo-owned Pahlmeyer estate uses the catchphrase ‘Defined by Mountain Fruit’. Its site states that a few of its vineyard parcels are above 1400 feet (however that’s a mere 426m) and goes on to explain that these get over 3 hours more sunlight every day as lower vineyards lie under the Pacific seaside fog for longer. Here is an illustration of one of the keys to talking about elevation– context.
The context here is the Pacific seaside fog, so prevalent in California. Generally, higher altitude is believed to offer a cooler climate, however it’s not constantly so simple: in Pahlmeyer the elevation is valued for giving more sunlight hours, and also more intense tastes and level of acidity to balance the sugar produced from that sunshine.
Northern California’s vineyards lie at a latitude of 35-36 degrees north of the equator. Yet when we go back to the Alps, the latitude for the vineyards in Tentodoc, Savoie or Switzerland is around 45-46 degrees north of the equator, a whole 10 degrees even more from the equator.
Whereas temperature level reduces by about 0.6 degrees Celsius per 100m increase in elevation, all things being equal, temperature increases as you get closer to the equator. Any discussion of altitude is almost useless without considering latitude.
In Argentina’s largest wine area Mendoza at around 33 degrees south of the Equator, 600m is the lowest elevation for vineyards and is thought about extremely hot, whereas the cooler altitudes are thought to begin at around 1000m. In the nation’s most northern vineyard region, Salta, at around 24 degrees south, the vineyards extend from about 1500m with a couple of at over 3000m.
In terms of terroir, mention of altitude or mountain vineyards preferably requires reference of specific heights in addition to latitude. Yet other equally pertinent aspects include the vineyard’s steepness, its angle to the sun, proximity to ocean influences or certainly nearby high mountain weather systems, not to discuss the soil composition and geology, a whole other influence.
Context is everything when you are explaining the terroir of the vineyard, so let’s offer Trentodoc a break. Its vineyards might not be that high, but they can be thought about Alpine, as they do have a strong impact from the close-by high Alpine mountains.
Trust me, I’m a huge elevation and mountain vineyard fan– it is a considerable terroir benefit if you like lower-alcohol, acid-driven white wines. However, let’s likewise encourage the conversation of context when mentioning altitude figures or bandying around the term ‘mountain vineyards’. Here’s raising a glass of Alpine bubbles to you, Davide!
To sign up with the discussion, comment on our social networks channels.