Matching Terroir to grape variety

An axiom with perhaps European roots is “a grape variety won’t ripen every year if it is the right variety for the site.” I think the jury is still out for white varieties but it carries weight with red wine.

Grapes tend to hold their acid and fruit character better when ripening occurs in cool weather. Fine tuning and narrowing the varieties down to the best for a particular site or even for a few rows is quite precise and can take a bit of trial and error. The high altitude in Orange gives us an edge in grape production as many varieties do well here. However certain varieties (e.g. Chardonnay) do particularly well. A well-balanced wine is a real pleasure to drink. White wine is balanced by its acid and without it the wine would be uninteresting.

A premium red wine is balanced more by tannin than acid. And there is good reason why aged red is more highly valued than young… the tannins mature and soften with time making it more velvety and mouth filling. Whether in the bottle, barrel or vineyard tannins take time to mature.

It has been fashionable of late to produce lower alcohol wines, which gives the winemaker very few choices, pick the grapes early or employ a special machine to remove alcohol from the wine.

Picking red grapes early is risky as the seeds and stems should be brown otherwise the green seeds and stems will produce bitter tannins.

In a hot year or if there is plenty of growing season left the leaves continue pumping sugar into the grapes resulting in a wine with very high alcohol and low acid content by the time the seeds and stems turn brown. On the other hand if the season is too short and the leaves fall off prior to the grapes ripening the wine can have under-ripe flavours.

This leaves the middle ground… the sweet spot when the ripening period matches the growing season and the grapes become fully ripe as the leaves start turning and no longer pump carbohydrates into the fruit allowing the stems and seeds to brown up nicely without losing acid or increasing sugar. When this is achieved with red varieties you have the perfect match.

The length of season required for Cabernet Sauvignon seems to fit these criteria quite nicely in the Patina Vineyard.

Winemakers are very good at their job (they need to be) and are able to produce very palatable, balanced wines from less then perfect fruit but the truly delightful, standout wine comes from vines that are perfectly matched to their terroir in an ideal vintage.

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