wine growing climates

What are the parameters for winery climates/soil? It seems that tons of locations are popping up as new wine lands (vinter-lands?). Are there varieties of grapes that can grow all over?

IIRC, grapes can grow anywhere where there isn’t a long, cold winter. I’m not sure if all of them make particularly good wines.

There is a winery local to us (Latitude approx 42 degrees 42’). The owner says that he can only make wine this far north because the grapes are located on a hill with a southern exposure; anywhere else and the grapes would die.

Wines can be made at greater lattitudes if you have mild winters (e.g. Washington State).

As a historical note, “Vinland” (i.e., Leif Erikson’s colony) is probably a mistranslation: the original name was probably “Berryland” (The explorers found berries growing there).

There are wineries in Vermont, but they make apple and other fruit wines (and they aren’t too bad).

The ideal growing condition varies for different varieties.

The French coined the term 'terroir ’ to define this. Terroir refers to several things including soil, climate, geology, exposure to sun, etc.

Generally the soil should be rocky/stony/crumbly, with good drainage and plenty of lime/chalk/ash. It is usually not the rich, fertile soil you expect other crops to thrive in. The vines should work to survive. Generally, lower yield means higher quality fruit. (But again, this varies.)

Climate plays a big part in variety success, some prefer it a little cooler, some thrive in hotter, dryer conditions during their growing season, though they all definitely do need sunshine and water (obviously.) A winter chill or frost is also preferred for vine dormancy.

Personally, (and I dont know very much about viticulture, so take this all with a grain of salt) I think CA and Australia have got the most ideal climates and microclimates. Obviously France reigns supreme, but the rain during the growing season is much more unpredictable, making ‘vintage’ a little more important for those regions. I find that vintage is less of a factor in the new world wines of CA and places like Australia and New Zealand. Vintners can regulate the water supply with greater ease, making their vintages more consistent year to year.

Plenty of other conditions play a part, such as altitude/slope, wind/fog, trellising, etc.

I think what we’re seeing with new world wines is experimentation by growers in those areas, perhaps more attention paid to ‘terroir’, and when they find success, they stick with it and improve.

I don’t know about a variety of grape that can truly grow all over, but I can tell you that the most widely planted grape in the world is a white grape called Airen, followed by the red grape Grenache.

If you’re really interested in more check out The Vintner’s Art: How Great Wines Are Made by Hugh Johnson. Lots of info about terroir and winemaking in general.

In the Douro Valley of Portugal, the conditions are so harsh, one wouldn’t think a viable crop could be produced, yet Port and other world-class wines come out of this region’s grapes.

After all that blabbering I just went over to one of the libraries here at work and grabbed a book to see what I could find.

This might answer your question more accurately:

Taken from Wine: An Introduction by Amerine and Singleton

*A couple of professors at UC Davis came up with a system to classify growing regions in California back in the 1930’s.

For more on heat summation units and degree days see here.

And here is another good website with information on viticulture and wine in general.

I’m glad you asked the question. I learned something new myself in looking it up. :slight_smile:

Well, I’d disagree that there’s anything about France that makes it any more supreme other than they’ve had the time and the inclination to develop the various cultivars of grapes which make up the majority of the wine business (and that hard to crack reputation), and they know and understand the particulars of each variety (perhaps that’s what you were getting at?)

Tradition, sure, climate and soil, not particularly. You can’t really compare soils since different soils will often give the same variety of grapes different tones and flavors. Also, California has obviously had a much shorter time period to develop their vines, so it’s only now that the vines are beginning to take on regional characteristics that distinguish those varieties from those in Europe.

Anyway, the wine grape (species itself) prefers long, hot summers and mild wet winters. These are Mediterranean plants, and as such, this is why they do so well in places like Australia and California (and obviously why wine culture sprung up around the Mediterranean, as the plants are native there).

Like other Mediterraneans, they dislike high heat and high humidity, and tend to go moldy and get sick easily. However, they can tolerate cool summers (as the wine industry here around Monterey attests). They dislike soils which tend to stay stoggy and wet, and prefer free drainage. If you visit the wine country of California (and not just Napa), you’ll find wine grapes on hilly land, or the alluvial fans which tend to have coarser soil than the valley bottoms. No cultivar is exactly the same as another, and you can fail pretty badly if you choose the wrong one.

Climate is of course a huge factor and incidentally, the cooler regions give wines that have more intensity of flavor because the vines flower earlier than those in hot summer climates, and they also take longer to mature, providing the grapes a longer time to develop a balance between sugars and acids, as well as varietal flavor (and that’s what sets the wines from the Monterey region off from other areas in California).

Pretty much. The French know ‘terroir.’ The rest of the grape growing world is just starting to get it all right. Particularly California. (Hooray!)

I’d agree. Isn’t California starting to beat some of the French wines?

Anyway, just wait another twenty years to see how these California wines end up!

Just tossing in a mention of the Niagara wine region ( which, while still very young, is developing into quite a well-respected wine-producing area. Okanagan valley in British Columbia is getting in on the action as well. The Niagara escarpment provides quite a unique barrier leading to a good microclimate for wine production.
See what I learned off of wine labels? :slight_smile:

I’ve heard that the key to a good wine is to grow them in the worst soil in which they will grow. A grape that is pampered will spend most of it’s time producing water and you end up with a watery grape juice. A grape that is suffering spends most of it’s time producing sugar and flavour at the expense of growing large which is what produces fine wines.

A technique with tomatoes is similar, keeping them on the dry side produces less large sized fruit, but you get a much more flavorful tomato as they aren’t so full of water. The plant (tomato, grape or otherwise) always wants to invest as much water as it can into its fruits, so what you say makes a lot of sense.

Almost unbelievably, an English vineyard. Nice wine though!

The soil is chalky and the property south-facing which ties in with some of what has been said here.

I have taken their tour, we were told that when it gets very cold and frosty in early spring they out those gas heater things out among the vines to protect the plants.

Here in Minnesota, there are a couple of honest-to-goodness grape growing and using vineyards. One of them actually uses the line “Where the grapes can suffer”.

In cold climates, extra care has to be taken to protect the vines. The one grower I’ve talked to here says that every fall they trim the vines, dig a large trench next to each row, lay the vines down into the trench and then cover them over. In the spring, the vines are uncovered and reattached to the trellises.

I’ve also seen a website (sorry, I don’t have the link) of a guy in Canada who was trying to start his own grapevines. He grew the vines in pots and every fall unpotted them and stored them in a freezer (which was warmer and more controlled then his yard.) I don’t think he is ever going to have enough to make wine commercially, but it’s an interesting experiment.

I see heaters and wind machines out here as well in the spring.

Winter frost is OK, but spring frost, after the plants have already budded, is not.

A method they use around here during a spring frost is to sprinkle the buds, flowers, or small fruit with water and let them freeze.

The plants are insulated by the ice, and heat is released as the water freezes (latent heat of fusion.)

St.Supery Winery has a good page detailing frost protection methods.

Interesting method. I think the big problem in VA with vineyards is the deer. I’ve been to a few and they hate them. Not sure why they don’t just get some good dogs to roam the fields…

So, what I am hearing from all this is that there are probably few states in the continental US where (grape) wine could not be grown decently. The point about pear and other fruit wines is a good one. I’ve had dandelion wine (gross) and some other non-grape wines (also kinda gross), but I think it was because of the maker. Never trust screw top lids on wine, even if the Amish do seem so nice.

Correct. USA Today did a neat page awhile back detailing each state’s wine production info. It looks like almost every state in the continental US has at least one (grape) winery.

Uh-oh. Now you’ve hit a soft spot. :wink: Screw caps are fabulous. Get used to them.

Quick question re: slope. What are the actual benefits of sloped land in growing grapevines?

Is it merely so the vines (on south-facing slopes) will get more sun? (I understand that in some cooler areas, like Germany, these requirements for steep southern exposure are life-and-death matters.)

Or is it so the soil will have better drainage? (i.e., so the vines aren’t sitting in flat, swampy areas and rotting)

Or is it that extreme slopes are generally more likely than flat areas to have the gravelly, rocky, chalky, non-rich soil that grapes do best in? (i.e., as opposed to the fertile lowlands where most food crops are grown)

Any/all of the above?

Sorry toadspittle, I think I’ve exhausted my viticultural knowledge. But from what I understand it does have to do with everything you mentioned and more.
Especially in this area, the way the fog rolls in plays a part, wind, etc. It’s all those little changes/factors that create all the microclimates we have in Northern California, particularly Sonoma and Napa valleys.

      • I don’t know nuts about making wine, but there are some wineries around the metro-St-Louis area, and they are always on hilltops. I don’t know that they always face one way, but the geology is flat bottomland near rivers used for farming regular crops (corn/grain/wheat, soy, ect). The wineries are never on the flat bottomland, always on the hilltops.

Pretty much what you’ve said. For instance, all of the wineries around Monterey, down the Salinas Valley are on the giant alluvial fans that spread out from the side canyons. Since these soils are “newer” they tend to be more mineral than organic, and are usually sandy, to gravelly and stoney. The bottom lands are usually rich clay or silty soils, which can be used to grow grapes, are better suited for fruits and vegetables. It also has somewhat to do with the temperature inversions we have here. The higher up the hills you go, the warmer things get.

The only places i’ve really seen grapvines outside of these areas is near the town of Greenfield where the vines are on flatter land, although it’s still rather rocky (they call the stones “Greenfield potatoes”). I’ve also seen vines in the soil of the great Central Valley which has rich soil (i’ve read the topsoil is up to 70m deep in places). Vines are vigorous and grow strongly there, but they take a little more care I believe. You can grow grapes in any soil as long as the roots don’t sit in mucky wet soil.

I’ve also read that aside from terroir, which is land suited to wine grapes, terrain is land suited to vegetable or fruit production. You can grow wine grapes on terrain, but they’re better grown on terroir.

here’s a nifty page: From Terroir to Terrain