Growing grapes for wine is a centuries-old art form that combines perfect wine climate, soil and cultivation to create unique wines that echo the land from which they came.
Certain regions of the world are renowned for their wines because their geography is particularly suited to the art of winemaking. The study of these winemaking techniques, called viticulture, gives insight into the subtle characteristics that provide each bottle of wine with its very own personality.
Winemaking and Terroir
Terroir is essential for growing grapes. This term denotes not only the geologic component of the soil but also the environmental qualities of the region and the methods used by particular vintners. Terroir can include:
- drainage (which is affected by the foundation underneath the soil)
- microclimate of the soil
- the altitude
- the amount of sun the plants receive (aspect)
- viniculture, or winemaking techniques employed in a region or at a specific vineyard.
Different soils are better suited for different grapes. For example, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes are especially suited for limestone soil, while Rieslings thrive in slate-based soil.
Drainage is also key. Grapes can grow in a variety of soils, but, for ideal winemaking, the foundation on which the vines rest must allow for drainage and aeration.
Wine and Temperate Climates
Grapes are an adaptable fruit and grow around the world. However, vines fare best in temperate climates, such as those found in France and Italy as well as in California and Chile.
Annual weather conditions are critical for a vineyard. Extremes of heat or cold can disrupt the proper growth cycle or even result in ruining a crop. Too much precipitation can drown vines, and too much humidity can lead to parasitic problems, such vine rot. This is why many wine regions that are well-known for their grapes generally fall between 20 and 50 degrees latitude, either north or south of the equator.
Wine Regions in Europe
Many key wine regions fall in the temperate areas along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts in Europe. With a variety of soils, from clay to sandy to earthy, and rich rivers feeding the surrounding areas, this area is well-known for its winemaking.
Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are just a few of France”s well-known wine regions, each specializing in a specific type of grape and exemplifying unique terroir. Given the historical context of wine in France, special laws and regulations abound to preserve the quality and classifications of French wines.
Italy is also renowned for its grapes and wine, with Piedmont serving as the country”s most famous region for wines. Producing a wide variety of both reds and whites, Piedmont is famous for its long-aged reds and Asti Spumante sparkling white. Tuscany is one of the oldest wine regions in all of Europe and is well-known for its Chiantis.
Spain also cultivates celebrated wines, with the limestone-rich Rioja region producing fresh wines designed to be enjoyed soon after bottling. The Galicia region, with rolling hills and more humidity, produces some of the countries finest white wines.
Wine Regions Outside of Europe
Europe doesn”t have a monopoly on great grape weather, however. California is also well-known for its abundant wineries along the state”s coast. The state”s temperate climate lends to an ideal growing season, with both the Santa Barbara and Napa valleys growing in esteem throughout the wine world.
Australia is well-known for its Shiraz varieties but has its own complete wine ecosystem. The Barossa Valley produces a wide array of reds, while Eden Valley is known for its crisp Rieslings.
Old World traditions and new innovations are creating a whole new class of wine lovers and connoisseurs. Given the appreciation for the subtleties and complexities of each region and each vineyard, it is sure that this art form will continue to thrive for centuries to come.