As wine growing culture in a particular region evolves, it sometimes becomes apparent that what has been grown for a long time is just not going to cut it anymore. The interplay between climate (rainfall and temperatures), soil, a variety’s productivity, the character of its fruit does not always yield a desired quality level in the finished wine.
So, through the initiative of individual growers, as part of an organized effort or by official mandate, different cultivars are brought in to a particular region with the hopes of elevating the quality of a regions wines. This is the essence of Cépage améliorateur.
Trying different varieties, growing techniques and locations is at the core of enological innovation. While it has been generally accepted that successful, world-class viticulture is not achievable beyond the 50th parallel (the northernmost vine plantings are said to be in Sweden, north of the 59th parallel). Southern England, straddling the 50th parallel benefits from both climate change and the tempering effect of the English Channel.
A large body of water mitigates a cold climate and it cools a hot one. It is no surprise, then, that the foremost wine growing regions in the U.S. are on the Pacific coast. That statement is not intended to diminish or disparage the East Coast, the Finger Lakes or Niagara Peninsula. My daily pondering is centered on the question: is heat summation comparable to the region of a variety’s origin enough (assuming similarities in soil, etc).
I want to know: does latitude matter? One only has to follow the lines of latitude around the globe to see where the leading European and American regions sit:
Champagne: ~48.5° – Canada/US Border (Finger Lakes & Niagara)
Burgundy (Austria): ~47° – Seattle
Bordeaux: ~44° – mid Oregon
Rhone: ~43.5° – middle of Oregon
Southern Italy (Central Spain): ~40° – Eureka, CA
Napa – ~38° – central Portugal
San Francisco: ~37.5° southern Portugal
Los Angeles: ~34° – Casablanca, Beirut
Certainly, California Pinot Noir is different from Burgundy, which is different from Oregon or new Zealand Pinot Noir.
Because the earth’s axis of rotation is tilted at 23.5°, regions further from the equator receive not only different amounts of total annual sunlight, but this difference in the angle of incidence of the sun’s rays results in greater warming of regions closer to the equator. To compensate for this, most American vineyards are planted in coastal regions.
However, I cannot help but wonder if the difference in the angle of incidence affects the physical nature of the light reaching vines: Are the frequencies of light reaching the planet’s surface at different latitudes different? If so, does this have an appreciable effect on the cultivars that do best at a particular latitude? If that is true, should latitude be part of terroir? Finally, should a region’s varietal selections be made based with latitude in mind?
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