Mind your Latitude: 34° North

We’ve looked at wine through the lens of grapes, places, soils, barrels, bottles, and stems…and for the next few weeks we’re taking a look at latitude. Today, we present: 34 degrees North!

Coteaux de l’Atlas 1er Cru: Morocco, located at the northern tip of Africa and just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Southern Europe, was once-upon-a-time a wine-production powerhouse. Much of the country’s former industry has since faded away, beginning in the 1950s when the country won its independence from France and Spain. However, in the 1990’s, thanks to efforts led by King Hassan II of Morocco, foreign investment (primarily from France and Spain) began to flow into the Moroccan wine industry. These days, the county contains over acres (50,000 ha) of vines, and several designated wine regions, including the Coteaux de l’Atlas 1er Cru (Atlas Hills) region located between the Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic Coast. A range of grapes are grown in the area, led by the red varieties Cinsault, Alicante, Carignan, and Grenache.

Dahlonega Plateau AVA: The Dahlonega Plateau AVA, approved in 2018, is located in the state of Georgia. The region is named after a long, narrow plateau located in an elevated section of land sitting between the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains. The area consists of gently rolling hills separated by wide valleys and has an average elevation of 1,554 feet (474 m) above sea level. There are currently just over 110 acres (45 ha) planted to vine and approximately seven commercial wineries within the newly-minted AVA. Leading grape varieties include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Merlot.

Ghazir, Lebanon: Ghazir, located near Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast about 15 miles (24 km) north of Beirut, is the home of Chateau Musar— arguably Lebanon’s most renowned winery, and an amazing tribute to life, family, and wine despite the ravages of war. Chateau Musar was founded in 1930 by Gaston Hochar upon his return from a trip to Bordeaux. In 1959, Gaston’s son, Serge Hochar, took over as winemaker. In 1979, the winery burst upon the international scene after a successful showing at the Bristol Wine Fair, as Michael Broadbent declared it “the discovery of the Fair.” The winery is best-known for its red blends, produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache, and Mourvèdre grapes. White wines and rosés are also produced; white wines are based primarily on Obaideh and Merwah—both considered to be native to Lebanon.

Malibu Coast AVA: Southern California’s Malibu Coast AVA, established in 2014, is located in on the edge of Los Angeles, somewhat between Ventura County and the Hollywood Hills. The vineyards of the AVA are located in the rugged, volcanic mountains that border the Pacific Coast. The area included within the AVA is immense—45,000 acres/18,000 ha—but just under 200 acres/81 hectares are planted to vine. Leading grape varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Despite its small acreage, the area surrounding the Malibu Coast does have a history of viticulture that dates back to the 1820s. These days, the Malibu Coast AVA contains two subregions (which were actually approved as AVAs prior to the Malibu Coast). There areas are now known as the Malibu-Newton Canyon AVA (approved in 1996) and the Saddle Rock-Malibu AVA (approved in 2006).

Middle Rio Grande AVA: Established in 1988, the Middle Rio Grande Valley AVA is located in the state of New Mexico; it follows the banks of the Rio Grande River for over 50 miles (80 Km) from Santa Fe through Albuquerque.  The vineyards here benefit from the mountainous terrain, and most sit at an elevation of 4,000 to 6,500 feet (1,200 to 2,000 m). While the concept of “fine wine from New Mexico” still seems to shock some consumers, wine has been produced here since 1629, two Capuchin monks from Spain first planted grapes at a spot that would later become Socorro, New Mexico. As such, viticulture and wine production in New Mexico can be said to pre-date the rise of the California wine industry by at least two hundred years.

Shanxi, China: The Chinese province of Shanxi is located on a high plateau between the Gobi Desert and the coastal plains, about 250 miles (402 km) inland from the Yellow Sea. This is a high-elevation area with ample sunshine, well-drained loess soils, and a continental climate (that can sometimes prove severe in winter). The Shanxi region contains approximately 3,000 acres (1,200 ha) of vines largely planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat, Chardonnay, Marselan, and Merlot. Grace Vineyards, one of China’s most famous and respected wineries—known for world-class facilities and a leader in wine tourism—is located in Shaxni’s Taigu county, about 25 miles (40 km) south Taijyuan (the provincial capital).

Texas High Plains AVA:  Surrounding the city of Lubbock, the Texas High Plains AVA is located in north Texas—just south of the area often known as the Texas Panhandle—and sitting atop a large, elevated mesa known as the Llano Estacado (“Staked Plains”). A portion of the AVA’s eastern boundary follows the edge of Caprock Escarpment—a series of sharp cliffs that divide the high plains from the red Permian plains of Texas below. Despite the state’s reputation for flat terrain, the Texas High Plains is a region of high elevation—rising from 3,000 feet (900 m) in the southeast to over 5,000 feet (1,500 m) in the northwest of the area. Cotton and wheat have typically been the leading agricultural products of this region, but there are currently over 4,000 acres (1,618 ha) of vines. The climate here is quite continental, although winters are rarely severe. One challenge is the lack of rain and the fast-draining soils; however, the waters of the vast Ogallala Aquifer (sometimes referred to as the High Plains Aquifer) are often used for irrigation. A range of grape varieties are grown in the Texas High Plains AVA; leading grapes include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Grenache, Cinsault, and Viognier.

Yamaguchi Prefecture: The Yamaguchi Prefecture—located in the southwest corner of Japan’s “main” island of Honshu—is surrounded (on three sides) by the Sea of Japan, the Setouchi Inland Sea and the Kanmon Straits. Not surprisingly, seafood—including the dangerous-but-delicate fugu (puffer fish)—is a specialty here along with hot-tile noodles and pressed sushi made with lotus root.  One of Japan’s leading producers of sake, Dassai, is located in the Yamaguchi Prefecture, and indeed takes its name from an ancient name for the region (the name translates to “otter festival” and denotes a time when a large number of otters lived in the area’s rivers). Dassai is one of the few sake breweries in Japan that uses only the finest strain of sake rice— Yamada Nishiki—and concentrates on the production of only the most delicate style of sake, known as Junmai Daiginjo. The Dassai brewery also gives tours…so a sake-and-food lovers’ vacation might be in order!

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Click here for more information on our “Mind your Latitude” series

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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