Natural Factors that Influence Wine Grape Growing

Vines on plateaus around a brick house in Italy | Natural Factors that Influence Grape Growing

The Five Big Wine Influences

When we think about the variables that make a difference in our sensory evaluation of wine, there are some things that immediately come to mind. The most important factors influence grape growing are:

  • Location
  • Weather
  • Climate
  • Topography
  • Soil

The order of importance will likely be debated until the end of time, but soil tends to be often discussed through specific characteristics in finished wine. Each factor imparts different characteristics into different varietals (the different species of grapes), and this is why some grape varietals prefer long, balanced summers, while others have the best results during a stable growing season that spikes with heat mid-summer.

Location’s Influence on Wines

Location is the first “test” for grapes. Not all grapes are made for every location, and a location’s climate is the most important factor to consider when growing different grape varietals. Not all grapes can be grown in cool climates and nor can all grapes be grown in warm climates.

The first thing to consider to is the location’s distance from the equator. Wine grapes are most commonly successful in two latitudinal bands: 30° to 50° north and south of the equator. Traditional wine growing regions, such as Europe, are found between 40 and 50 to the north of the equator. Wines of Canada has an awesome map available showing Canada’s winegrowing regions. 

Canada on the World Map - Wine Bands

Weather vs. Climate in the Wine World

If you’re new to wine you may consider climate and weather to be the same. Now would be a good time to forget about that.

Climate refers to the general conditions in various locations around the globe. Weather, on the other hand, is the condition of the atmosphere in a specific place on a daily basis: rain, wind, sun, and temperature. Climate is relatively consistent for an area across years and seasons, while weather can vary in different places on a daily basis. Simple, right?

In grape growing we look at macroclimates, mesoclimates, and microclimates – each of which span acres, vineyards, and vine canopies respectively. The weather in each of these will influence how the grapes perform in terms of quality, sugars, and other important factors that affect our tastebuds. If it rains a little more on one side of the vineyard, these grapes will have less sugars than the grapes on the other side the vineyard.

To-po-what? Topography!

Topography is the impact of physical features on a grape growing area. Topography measures relief features such as mountains, benches (a flat area on the side of a hill that you can plant grapes on), and lakes. The distance between a vineyard and a large body of water is important to consider because both warming and cooling effects create different growing temperatures. If you’re lucky the combination of warming and cooling effects create an ideal growing temperature throughout the season. Escarpments, benches, and mountains can protect a vineyard from wind conditions of they can exaggerate them.

 

Wine Topography - Mountain Outline

Soil Matters

Soil has an incredible amount of influence on the characteristics wines. Soil affects the speed at which grapes grow. Soils that store heat can speed up ripening while colder soils like clay can slow it down. Soils like limestone that are higher in pH produce more acidic juice, and ultimately more acidic wines (a great example of this is the Beamsville Bench).

Roots that are planted in high-mineral soils will impart those flavours in the final product. This makes it important to match which rootstocks and varietals are being planted in which soil (otherwise you can end up with some not-so-great wine). Finally, the soil influences how roots grow, and ultimately how nutrients are distributed to growing grapes.

While there are endless possibilities to consider when growing grapes and making wine, these are the five most important natural factors. In future posts, we will also look at other factors, such as the effects that winemaker decisions can have on the final product. Let us know your experiences (good or bad) with nature in the comments.

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