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cool climate wines


How will Climate Change Affect Cool Climate Wine Regions? Only Time will Tell…

Meursault Vineyards - Jacky Blisson MW

Atmospheric rivers, bomb cyclones, polar vortexes, cold drops… As increasingly erratic weather patterns combine with rising temperatures, prolonged drought episodes, and the like, the realities of climate change have never been more stark.

Grape growers, like all farmers, are dealing with a constantly shifting playing field, forcing them to adapt every season. Viticultural and oenological researchers are working feverishly to find solutions as problems continue to multiply.

Drought-resistant rootstocks, polygenic disease resistant hybrids, canopy management techniques to better shade fruit against sunburn, all manners of cutting-edge technology to track temperature, light, humidity, and water availability, lower alcohol-producing yeast strains, etc.

These are just a few of the many avenues being explored to maintain the viability of our major vineyard regions. And even if these efforts meet with long-term success, how long will the wine styles we currently know, and love remain recognizable?

Not so long ago it seemed like something of a boon to see rising temperatures in traditional cool climate regions like the Mosel Valley and Bourgogne. The need to memorize vintage charts to avoid lean, green, and let’s face it…often pretty mean wines from cold, wet growing seasons has all but vanished.

The need to chaptalize or rely on healthy doses of süssreserve to bolster light vintages is no longer such a vital crutch. On the other end of the spectrum, techniques to protect fruit in overly hot vintages have also improved. In Burgundian cellars, these ripe wines are also being handled with far greater elegance, with gentler extraction and far more discreet oak ageing than was the norm in the early 2000s.

Until recently, it wasn’t uncommon to hear wine critics describe climate change as a “blessing” for these cooler climes. Though I doubt many producers in these regions would agree looking forward to projections for the next thirty to fifty years to come.

The renown of wines from places like the Mosel and Bourgogne is built on their rare ability to combine a silky, ethereal elegance with underlying power and impressive ageability. Their vivid flavours, vibrant acidity, and overall poise stems – in part – from the long, slow, steady ripening that was once a hallmark feature of these climates.

Recently, I received a series of Bourgogne samples in the 14% to 14.5% alcohol range. While velvety and generously fruity, they lacked the tangy vibrancy of fruit, and fine-grained tannic presence that – for me – defines good red Bourgogne. In fact, I wasn’t at all sure that I would have picked out the region (or even the grape!) in a blind tasting.

With the advent of lower intervention winemaking, rising temperatures are all the more cause for concern. At higher potential alcohol and pH levels, contamination from errant bacteria or yeasts is a far greater threat.

For many, these funkier, more savoury flavours represent an appealing new layer of complexity…but at what cost? If we need to drink these wines within the first year or two of existence, before they fall apart, we lose all the pleasure of seeing the aromas and structure evolve.

Only time will tell how greatly our rapidly changing climate and ever evolving winemaking practices will affect traditional cool climate growing regions. In the meantime, I will continue to seek out and champion the many skillful producers successfully walking the fine line of bright, balanced fruit and freshness.

Here are just a handful of names that have impressed in recent tastings:

Agnès Paquet, Bourgogne (Côte d’Or)
Based in the tucked away Côte de Beaune hamlet of Meloisey, Agnès makes lithe, elegant wines with bright fruit and silky tannins. Her Auxey-Duresses red, fermented with native yeasts, partial whole-cluster, and aged in seasoned oak is divine.

Claudie Jobard, Bourgogne (Côte Chalonnaise)
Claudie Jobard comes from a long line of growers and winemakers in Rully. Her father was a reputed pépiniériste (vine nursery man). Her Rully white wines are proof positive that this once humble appellation can make wines with serious body, tension, and verve.

La Soeur Cadette, Bourgogne (Vézelay)
Now a négociant operation with lively, pure fruited wines from Beaujolais and across Bourgogne, this domaine built its reputation in the small Vézelay wine growing area nestled some 100km northwest of Beaune. Their nervy, incisive low-intervention Chardonnays are always great value.

Famille Dutraive, Beaujolais
Highly regarded Beaujolais winemaker Jean-Louis Dutraive is joined by his three children in the creation of this top notch négociant firm. A recent tasting of their Fleurie Les Déduits 2019 blew me away with its vivid flavours, overall vibrancy, and satiny texture.

Julien Sunier, Beaujolais
The Beaujolais winemaking style of Dijon-native Julien Sunier is often compared to Chambolle-Musigny, which is where he got his start, under Christophe Roumier. Lovely florality, bright flavours, and a lightness of touch that belies the impressive staying power of his Fleurie, Morgon, and Régnié old vine wines.Julien’s brother, Antoine Sunier, is also making very silky, elegant Beaujolais wines that are worth checking out.

This “Future of Cool Climate Wines” piece is re-printed (with permission) from my article written for Good Food Revolution. If you want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits, check out their excellent website.

Education Reviews Wines


cool climate wines
Photo credit: Domaine St. Jacques

If you have spent any time chatting with wine geeks lately you may have heard them refer to certain wines as being “cool climate” in style. Perhaps you found yourself wondering, what are cool climate wines?

Vitis vinifera, the major grape vine species used to make wine, is a Mediterranean plant. It likes warm, sunny, fairly dry climates and produces abundant, ultra-ripe crops in these areas. In more marginal growing regions, the vine often struggles to fully ripen its grapes.

***Side note: I have also made this post into a YouTube video. To watch, just scroll down to the bottom & click play. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing to my YouTube channel so you never miss an episode of my wine education series.

What is So Special about Cool Climate Wines?

It might seem counter-intuitive to grow a plant in a climate where the ripening of its crop is a constant concern. However, Vitis vinifera is a very particular species. The old adage goes that a grape vine needs to struggle to produce great wine. While not all winemakers would agree, many top producers do share this sentiment. Stressed vines generally produce lower grape yields which ripen at a slower rate. Proponents feel that this produces wines of greater concentration and complexity.

That is not to say that struggling vines always produce better quality. In the case of cool climates, grapes that have failed to fully ripen make thin, bitter, highly acidic wines that could strip the enamel from your teeth. However, grapes that have just attained that magical balance of vibrant acidity and sufficiently sweet fruit, with skins ripe enough to have lost their tough thickness and astringent taste, can produce incredibly elegant and refreshing wines.

Cool climate wines are generally lighter in body, with lower alcohol, and higher, more mouthwatering acidity than their counterparts from warmer growing regions. The fruit flavours are often subtler, ranging from tart to fresh, with green to white fruit notes on white wines and tangy cranberry, red berry and cherry aromas on reds.

In comparison, wines from warmer climates tend to be fuller-bodied, with higher alcohol, softer acidity, and more baked or jammy fruit flavours.

What Grapes Grow Best in Cool Climates?

Major concerns in cool climate growing areas include late budding, early autumn frosts, and cold winters. Grapes that ripen early and are able to withstand winter’s chill are best suited to cool climates.

In regions with frigid winters, where the thermostat regularly dips down below -20°C, cold-hardy hybrid grape varieties are often preferred by growers. Grapes like Frontenac, Maréchal Foch, Vidal and L’Acadie Blanc are popular in the coldest parts of Canada and northern USA.

Where winter conditions are slightly milder, Vitis vinifera varieties like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gamay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc thrive.

What Makes a Climate Cool?

According to acclaimed American wine writer Matt Kramer, “the notion of cool climate is, in many ways, a New World concept”. Kramer made this assertion during a webinar exploring the evolution of cool climate wines for this year’s virtual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C).

Wines have been produced in marginal climates – like Chablis and Champagne – for centuries. However, classifying wines from these regions as “cool climate” is a relatively new phenomenon; one which has grown in prominence over the past ten years.

So, what factors make a wine region cool? To date there is no formal definition or set rules as to what constitutes a cool climate. With this in mind, a second i4C webinar, led by John Szabo MS, looked at major contributing factors to cool climates.

Latitudes between 30° and 50° in the northern and southern hemispheres are generally agreed to be the areas where wine grapes can successively be cultivated. Latitude has long been used as a primary argument for climate, with wine regions closer to 50° regularly typecast as cool climate.

Various measurement tools have also been developed in an attempt to codify viticultural climates. One system, called growing degree days (GDD) measures heat accumulation over the growing season. Another, called growing season temperature (GST), measures the average monthly temperature over the 7 months of the grape growing season. According to climate experts Gregory Jones and Hans Schultz, regions with GST averages between 13 – 15c, and GDDs of 850 – 1389 are classic cool climates regions.

However, climate classifications based solely on one-size-fits-all indicators like latitude or GDDs are increasingly being called into question. Each region has its own unique geography and weather patterns. Wind circulation, altitude, soil types and colours, proximity to bodies of water capable of tempering temperature extremes…these are just a handful of factors that can significantly affect a region’s temperatures and exposure to sunlight.

Where Can I Find Cool Climate Wines?

The lighter, fresher wine styles associated with cool climates are becoming increasingly popular with wine lovers. Wine regions proclaiming themselves cool are popping up all over the world, leading to growing critical skepticism.

That being said, most wine experts agree that vineyard areas like Champagne, the Loire Valley, and Burgundy produce cool climate wines. Well known cooler areas in the USA include much of Oregon, coastal areas of Sonoma, and parts of Santa Barbara County. In Australia, Tasmania is an exciting region for cool climate wines. In New Zealand, several areas make the cut, such as the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, and parts of Central Otago.

If you want to go slightly off the beaten track, England has a growing reputation for fine cool climate sparkling wines. Here are home, Nova Scotia and Québec are also great cool climate sparkling contenders. Ontario and British Columbia each possess a number of cool climate terroirs making a wide array of cool Chardonnay, Riesling, Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir wines.

Tasting Cool Climate Wines

The series of i4C lectures discussing and debating cool climate wines and regions culminated as all great wine conversations should, with a tasting. Here are my notes on the six wines from Chablis, New Zealand, and Ontario generously supplied to me by the regions to celebrate i4C and all things cool climate.

Domaine Laroche 2018 Petit Chablis, France

Excellent as an aperitif, this light-bodied, taut Petit Chablis offers discreet earthy, yellow apple and nettle notes on the nose. White grape fruit and lime flavours provide an attractive juiciness to the nervy, high acid. Finishes bone dry.

Where to Buy: SAQ (23.45$), inquire with agent in Ontario: Select Wines

Domaine Gueguen 1er Cru Vaucoupin 2018, Chablis, France 

Very elegant premier cru Chablis, with pretty white blossoms and ripe orchard fruit notes on the nose. With a little time in the glass, underlying aromas of wet stone and white mushroom develop. The palate is defined by a firm, almost strident acidity on the attack that softens and broadens on the mid-palate. Vibrant white fruit flavours mingle with tingly saline notes that linger on the long, dry, finish.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent Le Maitre de Chai

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylor’s Pass Chardonnay 2018, Marlborough, New Zealand

A really harmonious Chardonnay with bright yellow fruit aromas layered with buttered, flinty nuances and subtle toasty oak. The palate features vibrant acidity that enhances the juicy meyer lemon, passion fruit, and apricot flavours and balances the rich, round, textural palate. Pleasantly warming on the lengthy finish.

Where to Buy: LCBO (33.95$), inquire with agent in Québec: Vins Dandurand

Paddy Borthwick Chardonnay 2018, Wairarapa, New Zealand

Initially discreet nose, with an array of ripe, yellow fruit and flinty hints upon aeration. Fresh acidity provides definition to the rounded, full-bodied palate structure. Juicy stone fruits and subtle grapefruit pith bitterness on the dry, medium length finish. Slightly warming.

 Where to Buy: LCBO (25.00$)

Leaning Post Senchuk Vineyard Chardonnay 2018, Lincoln Lakeshore VQA, Niagara, Ontario 

Restrained earthy aromas on first approach, with delicate white floral, green apple, and lime hints developing after a few minutes in the glass. The racy acidity and very firm structure on this medium bodied white are balanced by a layered, textural mid-palate. Intriguing flavours of green fruits, earth and wet stone linger on the mouthwatering, dry finish. Needs 2 – 3 years cellaring to unwind.

 Where to Buy: LCBO (45.00$, 2017 vintage), 

Legacy Willms Vineyard  Chardonnay 2017, Four Mile Creek VQA, Niagara, Ontario

A highly aromatic style of Chardonnay (potentially Chardonnay Musqué?), brimming with white peach, Bartlett pear and vanilla notes on the nose and palate. Fresh, fruity, and rounded on the palate, with medium weight and a smooth finish. Best for lovers of soft, fruit-forward Chardonnay styles.

Where to Buy: