Sunday, 2 August 2015

The geography of wine

The first book I decided to read was called The Geography of Wine: How Landscapes, Cultures, Terroir, and the Weather Make a Good Drop by Brian J. Sommers. I learned a lot about terroir and even more about geography. Who knew geography was so complex. No longer just about maps and capitals and oceans and continents, it's all about the composition of the earth, the topography and how it influenced trade and commerce and human development. It's about transport and evolution of housing and farming. I learned more by reading that book than I have learned in a long time.

I really like that book.There was a lot of repetition, but repetition improves memory so I can't fault the author too much. It explains how different regions evolved different methodology and resulted in very different wines for specific reasons tied to those regions. For example, the great houses of Bordeaux had access to easy transport via rivers to big cities where the markets existed.  So they developed their own vineyards that produced their own varietal vintage wines in huge estates.

In Burgundy, the wine had to be transported over land which was costly and the wine didn't travel well. So they pooled their resources with other grape growers to increase yield from which they made blended wines that traveled better and could be transported more economically in larger volumes. They also got together and built a canal to further reduce costs.

What I also learned was that grapes don't like rich soils. They like long dry summers and south facing hillsides. Grapes also grow enormously deep roots which help them find water in more arid places. But this was a development based on their need to grow very tall to reach sunlight above the canopy of forest. To grow that tall, they had to have deep roots to anchor them and tendrils to support the vines and the heavy fruit as it developed.

Grapevines basically take their nutrients from the rocks in the soil as they break down. They like rocky awful soil. That's why you see them in crevices of mountains like high in the Alps. They also like a lot of sunlight on south facing slopes near the sea.

South facing, sloping land, poor soil, near the sea. Check. Okay. So we got lucky again.

Grapes also tend to have a temperature band that they like. They basically don't like extremes.  They hate it when it gets too hot in summer and they can't tolerate extreme cold in winter.  But they do need a change of seasons.  They need to rest during a mild winter and produce over a long summer. Okay, so we don't have extremes. That part is good, but will it get warm enough for long enough and stay dry enough over the summer? That remains to be seen.

Okay, so just remember. This is an experiment and another great adventure which has just begun. Let it continue in earnest.

By the way. There is another book by the same title. I am not likely to read that one at that price.

The Geography of Wine:Regions, Terroir and Techniques
Editors: Dougherty, Percy H. (Ed.) $159 hard cover or soft cover $119 for the ebook