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Wine Geography: Topography Matters

Growing fine wine grapes is a trick that few master, and all of the help from your surrounding area is needed to make a great wine year after year. The topography around the vineyard, and the appellation that the vineyard resides in, greatly impacts the finished product in the bottle.

Proximity to water, mountains and valleys all have an affect on the finished wine, and there are scientific reasons as to why certain areas just perform better due to their microclimate. Elevation, and proximity to places of high elevation, heavily influences the style of wine that is produced.

"Geographical features are so important, especially in extreme climates, as growers may depend heavily on the protection from their proximity to lakes, rivers and mountains."

Below we see the west coast of the United States, and the intricate web of mountains and valleys that are formed up and down the western seaboard. The Pacific air is ushered into theses valleys and canyons to form the microclimates necessary for growing great wine grapes.

mountains wine regions
Mountains meeting the ocean creates landscape diversity.

In New Zealand, we find a "spine" of mountains running down the west coast of the south island, creating a rain shadow and guarding the island from weather patterns. In places like Wanaka, located up in the Southern Alps, grapes like Pinot Noir thrive in the alpine climate filled with pristine air, bright sunshine and elevation. This makes the diurnal temperature swing greater, rendering cooler nighttime temperatures that grapes love.

New Zealand has over 600 islands that make up the country.

Nowhere is the topography on display more than Italy, with its famous Apennine Mountains running down the center of the peninsula. This range creates a number of microclimates along its path, and the moderating breezes from the seas surrounding the country are trapped in the valleys to aid against the hot Italian summers.

"Sommelier exams are often filled with geography questions, as their are certain wine growing regions that wouldn't exist without the immediate topography."

Literally thousands of grape varieties thrive in Italy, as there are hundreds of valleys down the peninsula suited for viticulture. Wine grapes love the volcanic soils mixture with the nutrient poor, rocky layers of earth.

Italy wine grapes mountains
Italy has a microclimate for every type of grape.

Some of the other areas we see heavily influenced by their topography are Argentina, Chile and South Africa. These areas have major influential factors such as the Andes Mountains in South America and the Coastal Ranges that drape the Southern African continent.

The topography of a country heavily influences its ability to grow grapes, especially at the levels of quality needed to compete on the international market. Pinot Noir can grow in a lot of places, but it is in Burgundy, where a convergence of factors such as climate and soil are at play, does it rise to the level of greatness. As climate changes and temperatures rise, winemakers may be forced to higher elevations where the temperatures are cooler, altering the current viticultural landscape.

Geography is important in the study of wine and we will have a lot more to come on the topic.

So much more to come on Somm.Site!

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