Climate

It will be obvious from the foregoing that French vignerons regard much of the impact of climate is inextricably involved in terroir. Their Australian and Californian counterparts turn the approach upside down: they argue that climate is the most important influence on the quality of grapes, without denying that in some instances the soil, subsoil and rock components of terroir are of equal importance (Coonawarra being a prime example).

The first concept to grasp is the difference between macro-climate (regional climate), meso-climate (site climate) and micro-climate (the immediate climate among rows and within a grapevine canopy), the last a much-misused word. So much depends on the topography of the region; if it is laser flat, the data may well be accepted at face value. But even there, the French notion of terroir comes into play: this encompasses both terrestrial and aerial factors. Thus Coonawarra has a largely homogenous climate (up to two weeks’ difference in picking dates from north to south), but vines growing on the terra rossa (red soil) produce vastly superior cabernet sauvignon and shiraz to those on the sandy grey or (worse still) heavy black soils which, right or wrong, also fall within the official Coonawarra Geographic Indication (GI).

It is also important to understand what an important factor wind is in determining the ability of a region, an individual site and/or a particular vintage to produce grapes of a predictable quality or style. The easiest example to comprehend (if one has visited it) is California’s Salinas Valley, followed closely by California’s Carneros. Both of these are relatively flat (Salinas particularly) and the winds blow virtually every day through the growing season for a predictable period each day and in an absolutely inevitable direction. They effectively turn what would be warm growing conditions in the absence of wind into cool conditions.

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