C: Location

Location, where a grapevine is grown, even down to a specific single row in a vineyard, matters. From the geography and topography to factors of sunlight, rain and altitude, the location can be instrumental in shaping the grape. Broad wine regions are called “macroclimates” and can be as large as the Central Valley of California. Additionally, “mesoclimates” and vineyards within the larger macroclimate will often have unique traits, which together create the right conditions for great grape vine success.  While macroclimates are the largest collective area, “microclimates” are the smallest area recognized within wine locations and can be as small as a single row within a vineyard or even a single vine.

Geographic AreaWine Region Area
Neighborhood or StreetVineyard, Vine Row or Grapevine
Comparing common geographic areas with wine climate areas can help understand the size and magnitude.

This vine row represents a “microclimate” in the Eminent Domaine vineyard in Newberg, OR

Location itself is not the final deciding factor on whether grape vines will grow successfully.  Weather and topography can have even greater influence.  We break this down to two main location factors:

• Terrain

So even though certain varietals have similar starting personalities, the climates in which they are grown create varying impacts from sun, temperature, rainfall, wind, and the type of soil. Some varietals can only be grown in the right regions. However, many can be grown in multiple places, so for those grapes, the climate plays a big part in its final taste.

To illustrate this point, let’s take two chardonnays grown in completely different climates – some of the points we will make may not yet make sense as we have not yet covered these topics.  This comparison will, however, set the stage for the next modules and should peak your curiosity!

Warm, sunny climate Chardonnay:  Sunshine promotes photosynthesis and growth. The more sun, the faster the vine will produce flowers, onset grapes and ripen the grapes. The faster the grapes ripen, the more sugar the grape juice will contain. The more sugar in the juice, the higher the alcohol content will be created during fermentation.  When grapes ripen faster, the acidity will start to reduce and the fruit flavors of the grape will shift from bright and fresh to ripe and lush. 

End Result: A rich, juicy, deep fruit flavor with warmth from the high alcohol and lower acidity.

Cool, moderately sunny climate Chardonnay:  Cooler climate and less sun result in later onset of flowers and fruit and a longer growing period needed to reach ripeness. Grapes reach ripeness as the season ends keeping acidity levels high and sugar levels low. Fermentation with lower levels of sugar creates a lower alcohol wine where the bright acidity is the star of the show. 

End Result: Fresh, ripe fruit flavors that are light and tart and a wine that is refreshing and crisp.