by Justin Taylor
Growing wine grapes is never an easy pursuit, and generally the more traditional the landscape in relation to other agricultural crops, the less ideal it is for a grapevine. In summary, vines love a sloping hillside facing toward the sun, and ideally some prevailing wind. These “ideal” places are a rare existence in the world, and most of them are producing pretty high priced wines. As an old pupil in real estate there is a saying you never forget: location, location, LOCATION!
Now on the absolute fringe of this concept would be the high altitude vineyards that have brought us consumers into a new world of wine storytelling. From our own backyard, Burntshirt Vineyards currently farms 8.5 acres of vineyard at 3,400ft above sea level in Henderson County. Jump across the United States to New Mexico, where vines grow from 3,000-6,000ft and make a dizzying amount of wine styles. To top them all off, in Salta, Argentina you will find the Altura Maxima vineyard growing Malbec at 10,200ft, the highest planting in the world.
What exactly does this mean for the grapes? The actual shoots and perennial plant material responsible for growing leaves and fruit will be more compact and reserved. The length of the growing season is shorter as you climb in elevation which limits the vines’ ability to ripen fruit for wine production. One of the biggest plant responses is triggered by the thin atmosphere which exposes leaves and fruit to highly elevated levels of UV rays. All of these factors make for intense farming and intense fruit that we ultimately hope lands in our wine glass.
The answer to last issue’s trivia: Madeira. I will cover this style in detail in the next issue. The Wine and Vine trivia for next issue: What famed wine region hosts the lowest elevation vine cultivation in the world?
Justine Taylor is Winemaker at Parker-Binns Winery, Mill Spring, NC.