Wind and wine

Soil, clones, rootstock, slopes and valleys, trellis systems, rainfall and irrigation—all the things you think about when you think about terroir and what differentiates vineyards.

And then there is wind, which you may not have thought about, but which is critical, maybe more so than some of the elements you do think about.

Wind is a major factor in a vineyard. Mistral winds in the Rhône, Van Duzzer corridor winds in the Willamette Valley, San Pablo Bay winds in Sonoma-Napa, and many other winds wafting or whizzing their way through vineyards around the world significantly affect the wines we enjoy.

Winds cool things off at night, creating diurnal variances that are harbingers of quality wine. Winds chase humidity, fighting conditions that lead to mold or rot. In Mediterranean climates, winds deliver moderate temperatures that allow grapes to develop slowly, producing vivid aromas and layers of flavors.

Wind can be friend or foe. In places like Germany and the Finger Lakes region of New York, robust winds in those cooler climates can spell disaster for a vintage. Such is the life of a grape farmer, or any farmer for that matter.

The cierzo, a strong, dry, usually cold wind that blows from the north or northwest through the regions of Aragon, La Rioja, and Navarra in the Ebro Valley in northeastern Spain, is a poster child of wind’s influence. Cierzo wind has affected this mountainous, dry region for centuries. In the 2nd century BC, Cato commented it was “a wind that fills your mouth and tumbles wagons and armed men.”

The powerful wind comes from the Bay of Biscay on Spain’s northern border and rushes toward low pressure systems in the Mediterranean. It significantly benefits Spain’s wines by blowing away bugs, humidity, and heat that would otherwise make the area difficult to farm. As a result of the cierzo, arid vineyards in Carinena, Calatayud, and Campo de Borja can produce dazzling wines using fewer chemical sprays and fertilizers than their neighbors. There are a multitude of other examples.

For many wine regions, the answer my friend is blowing in the wind.

Last round: May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and the rain fall softly on your fields. May you be drinking the finest wine in heaven three hours before the devil even knows you are dead.

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