Making wine Part 2–Grapes

After securing land, the next decision is deciding on the grape. That decision influences decisions on trellising/vine training, irrigation, and overall success of your enterprise.

In this exploration of what goes into the making of the glass of wine, we primarily will look at red grapes. Many decisions are the same red or white, but red grapes involve more steps before you pull a cork and thus covers more of what goes into winemaking.

Different grapes do better in different places. In wine, place often is referred to as “terroir.” It is a French term, so—of course—it cannot be easily translated into English. Essentially, it means “place.” But only in the most expansive meaning.

Terroir means soil. Terroir means topography. Terroir means climate—macroclimate, mesoclimate, and microclimate. Terroir means the total of the natural environment. The key is belief a vineyard has a distinctive wine characteristic that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. The challenge to the vineyard manager is to match grape variety or varieties to the terroir.

There may be 10,000-plus varieties of wine grapes. Terroir borders on the infinite. There are those who claim to be able to discern differences between rows of pinot noir grapes in a Burgundy vineyard. We paint with a wider brush in this exploration of wine.

Among the many variables, temperature affinity and vineyard elevation are two of the most important. And, especially for this 30,000-foot survey, among the easiest to grasp.

Some grapes—pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon—do best in cooler climates. They do best in Bordeaux, Burgundy, northern California, Washington State, Oregon, New Zealand. Warm days and chilly nights are ideal. Other grapes—tempranillo, shirah/shiraz, malbec—tolerate heat better. They do well in warmer terroir—Spain, Italy, Rhône region of France, Australia, Texas.

Altitude influences grape skin. Higher the altitude, more the UV light. Thick-skinned grapes do best at altitude—measured in thousands of feet above sea level— because thicker skins protect them from UV. Thin skinned grapes do better at lower altitude—measured as sea level or hundreds of feet above sea level. Temperature and altitude also interact. Higher elevations get more sunlight and can have higher temperatures, but altitude also can engender lower night temperature—the famed diurnal shift. Warmth encourages ripeness; low temperatures encourage acidity. Great wine is a balance between rich, ripe fruit flavors and balancing acidity, which diurnal shift engenders.

Next week: The vineyard.

Last round: Never trust an atom. They make up everything. Including wine.