What’s it all about, Bergland?

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The wine regions of Austria have always seemed a bit confusing to me. Actually, that’s an understatement—but the issue is with me, not with Austria. I just need to focus. So here goes—I’m diving straight into the area that has (in the past) confused me the most, and am determined to develop a crystal-clear understanding of Bergland.

For starters: Austria has four main Weinbaugebiete (we’d call them “quality wine regions”). They are: Burgenland, Niederösterreich (Lower Austria, referring to being down-river on the Danube from the region they call “Upper Austria), Wien (Vienna), and Steiermark (Styria). These four regions are also states (or, in the case of Vienna, a capital city that serves as its own state, much like Washington DC here in the US) and can therefore serve as a PDO designation of origin—and—these regions may also contain more specific subregions (which may or may not be a Districtus Austriae Controllatus [DAC]). Did someone say confusing???

What’s Bergland got to do with it: Austria also has three large Weinbaugregionen (Landwein regions), or regions that are approved for PGI (protected geographical indication) wine. Two of these—Weinland Österreich and Steierland—neatly overlap with the PDO regions and are simple enough. However…there’s Bergland (not to be confused with Burgenland)…with no subregions and no overlap with the Quality Wine Regions of Austria.

If you check out my handy-dandy map, you’ll see that all of Bergland lies in the western section of the country which has typically been thought of as too cold, too mountainous, and too alpine for high-quality wine production (but a fantastic place for schnapps and beer—keep in mind that a good portion of the area is just south of Germany’s Bavaria). However, as we’ll see, there are some nooks and crannies of this rugged area that make for decent vineyard land, and wine is produced here.

Here is a closer look at the Bergland PGI, divided up by the five federal states that comprise the region:

Hochosterwitz Castle

Kärnten (Carinthia): Carinthia is the southernmost state of Austria, is entirely situated within the Eastern Alps, and is home to the eastern edge of the Grossglockner—the highest peak in the country. Viticulture in this area centers around the area near Hochosterwitz Castle as well as the valleys of the Lavant and Drava Rivers. The area currently has 170 hectares (421 acres) of vines, and the wines of the region have proven popular with tourists and locals alike, showing “promising potential.”

Oberösterreich (Upper Austria): It makes sense that the region upriver on the Danube would be a fine region for viticulture; after all, after the Danube crosses the political boundary separating “Upper” from “Lower” Austria, it flows through the famous wine regions of Wachau, Kremstal, Traisental, and Vienna. The area of Upper Austria did (historically) have quite a dynamic wine industry, and after several decades of decline, is back in business. Upper Austria currently has about 112 acres (45 ha) of vines, both in the Danube River Valley and the hilly regions closer to the center of the state.

Salzburg, with Mönchsberg Mountain in the background

Salzburg: Apparently there is more to Salzburg than the Sound of Music. However, if you are familiar with the classic musical (movie version), you no doubt noticed the soaring Alps surrounding the city, and indeed, the city of Salzburg is known for its five mountains, one of which—Mönchsberg—is home to vineyard overlooking the city. While apparently a new phenomenon, it seems there are now several vineyards in the state of Salzburg (totaling about 18 acres [7 ha]), and even a few within the city limits. This version of what they call “Mönchsberg Sparkling Wine” looks fascinating!

Voralberg: Voralberg is the westernmost state of Austria, bordering Switzerland, Germany, and the tiny country of Lichtenstein. Voralberg touches on Lake Bodensee and the Rhine River, and is close to a few outlying portions of the Württemberg and Baden wine regions of Germany. As such, it makes sense that there was once a thriving wine industry here; by some accounts the area had over 500 hectares planted to vines once upon a time. However, phylloxera reared its ugly head, and the industry has been slow to bounce back. Currently, Voralberg has 25 acres (10 ha) of vines, including one located in the town of Röthis, just a few miles east of where the Rhine River forms the border between Austria and Switzerland.

Photo of Zirl by Svíčková via Wikimedia Commons

Tirol (Tyrol): If you are familiar with Italy’s South Tyrol (Südtirol, aka Alto Adige) wine region, you may have wondered if there is a “North Tyrol.” Well, there is—except that it is known simply as “Tyrol” (Tirol)—and it is just north of Italy, in Austria. The state of Tyrol is discontinuous, divided by a 4.3-mile- (7 km-) wide strip; the larger area, straddling the area between Italy’s South Tyrol and Germany’s Bavaria, is known as North Tyrol; the smaller portion is East Tyrol. There is some historic connection to wine production here, including a (no longer cultivated) 14th-century vineyard located in Zirl—the products of which were greatly appreciated by Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519). Modern winemaking is springing to life as well, and Tyrol currently has 12 acres (5 ha) of vines and over two dozen wineries; check out the website of the Weinbau Verband Tiroler here.

Grapes and wines produced in Bergland are similar in variety and style to the overarching wines of Austria. White grapes prevail—particularly Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Müeller-Thurgau. The main red grapes are Zweigelt and Blauer Burgunder (Pinot Noir).

References/for more information:

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

Five Fast Facts about the Mayacamas Mountains

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The Mayacamas Mountain Range is a short mountain range—stretching just 52 miles (80 km) in a northwest-southeasterly direction—but it is very well-known to wine lovers as the range that forms the dividing line between Napa and Sonoma counties. However, the famous Napa/Sonoma divide only accounts for about 30 miles of the famous mountains’ total length of 52 miles. Read on to see what else makes the Mayacamas Mountains famous!

#1—Cobb Mountain: Cobb Mountain, peaking at 4,720 feet (1,439 m), is the highest point in the Mayacamas Range. It lies just outside of the town of Cobb in Lake County. The mountain is located outside of the range of any Lake County AVAs, but is only about five miles south of the southern edge of the Red Hills—Lake County AVA (and the larger Clear Lake AVA). This portion of the Mayacamas is responsible for the rolling hills and high-elevation vineyards of the Red Hills-Lake County AVA, which range in elevation from 1,600 to 2,500 feet (490 to 760 m) above sea level.

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#2—Mount Saint Helena: Mount Saint Helena, located at the boundaries of Napa, Sonoma, and Lake Counties, has five peaks that form something of an “M” shape. One of those peaks is located within the Knights Valley AVA and is the highest point in Sonoma County. The second-tallest peak—at 4,200 feet (1,280 m)—is the highest point in Napa County (this peak is located within the Napa Valley AVA but to the north of the Calistoga AVA). Both of these peaks may be reached via hiking trails located within Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.

#3—The Napa River: Mount Saint Helena is the source of the Napa River. The Napa River runs for 50 miles (88 km) from the southeast slope of Mount Saint Helena through the revered Napa AVAs of Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville, and Oak Knoll (as well as the city of Napa) before heading towards the Napa/Sonoma Marsh. The last 17 miles of the Napa River take it from the Trancas Steet bridge in Napa to the city of Vallejo through the Carquinez Straits—a long estuary bordering and empyting into San Pablo Bay.

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#4—The Watersheds: Towards their northern edge—just before the Mayacamas Mountains blend into the Mendocino Range in Mendocino County, the Mayacamas Mountains form the boundary between the watershed of the Russian River (as it flows south into Sonoma) and Clear Lake. This is one of the differentiating factors between the terroir of Mendocino County and Lake County.

#5—The Howell Mountains: The famous Howell Mountain AVA (of Napa Valley) is actually located within a mountain range known as the Howell Mountains. The Howell Mountains blend into the Mayacamas in northern Napa just north/west of their famous namesake mountain and namesake AVA. The Howell Mountains begin just north of San Pablo Bay and form the border between the Suisun Valley (of Solano County) AVA and the Napa Valley AVA. From there, they extend to the north/northwest for about 40 miles (64 km), after which they blend into the Mayacamas. The Howell Mountains are also known as the Mt. George Range; the southern portions of the mountains are often referred to as the Napa Hills.

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In terms of mountainous parentage, the Mayacamas Mountains are considered to be part of the Coast Ranges of California—which (in addition to the Mayacamas Range) include the Vaca Mountains, the Mendocino Range, and the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Coast Ranges of California span for over 400 miles (640 km) from Humboldt County, through Mendocino, onward through Napa and Sonoma—all the way south to Santa Barbara County.

References/for more information:

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

Wine Geo: Pass, Gap, and Gorge

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I checked the ever-expanding list of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) the other day, and for some reason my attention was drawn (once again) to the various geological formations that are mentioned in the titles. These include ridge, slope, plateau, sound, highlands, peak, ledge, and delta.  Fascinating! But…what do they all mean?

Let’s consider these for now: pass, gap, and gorge—as in Pacheco Pass, Templeton Gap, and Columbia Gorge.

What is a pass? Geomorphologically speaking, a pass (often referred to as a mountain pass) is a low-lying, somewhat flat area surrounded by much higher and more rugged terrain. A pass forms when a glacier or stream erodes away between two mountains or a series of mountains. Passes are typically the easiest route for people to travel across mountain ranges and many of the best-known passes in the world—such as the Great St. Bernard Pass in Switzerland and the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan—have served this purpose for millennia.

The Pacheco Pass AVA is located in north/central California, straddling the borders of San Benito and Santa Clara counties.  Casa de Fruta, part of a large fruit orchard and fruit stand complex catering to thirsty tourists on the road to Gilroy and Santa Cruz, is the only winery within the AVA. The area was awarded an AVA in 1984 after a petition was filed by the Zanger family (the owners of Casa de Fruta), who produce fruit wine under the Casa de Fruta label and vinifera-based wines under the Zanger Vineyards label.

Highway 152 along the Pacheco Pass. Photo by Chevy111 via Wikimedia Commons

The Pacheco Pass itself is a 15-mile long corridor that crosses the Diablo Range (part of the California Coast Mountain Ranges) along what is now State Highway 52. The Pass was named for Francisco Perez Pacheco who owned the land in the mid-1800s, back when the area was still a part of Mexico known as Alta California. For a time in the 1880s, the pass was known as Robber’s Pass due to two highwaymen that robbed (and sometimes murdered) travelers along the route. Even today, the stretch of the Highway 152 from Los Banos to Gilroy is quite dangerous, as witnessed by the high number of traffic accidents. There are even rumors that the pass is haunted (best not to pick up any hitch-hikers).

What is a gap? A gap is also a low area between two mountains; however, gaps are smaller than passes, and therefore more rugged and difficult to navigate.  Gaps (sometimes referred to as water gaps) are often created through the twin forces of water erosion and tectonic plate uplift.

A wind gap is a former water gap that no longer has any water due to stream capture (the diversion of a stream from its bed into a neighboring stream). The narrow valleys that remain behind after the stream has diverted allow rain, fog, and other climate features to penetrate beyond the point where the mountains would typically halt their progress.

The Templeton Gap District AVA is one of the 11 sub-appellations of Paso Robles. Surrounding the town on Templeton, it is one of the four sub-appellations hugging the western edge of the Paso Robles AVA and is the coolest of them all. The area benefits from a series of water and wind gaps carved through the California Coast Mountain Ranges by some long-forgotten water ways in addition to the Paso Robles Creek and the Salinas River. These gaps draw cool, moist air from the Pacific Ocean inland towards Paso Robles.

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What is a gorge? A gorge is deeper than a pass or a gap, and is better described as a narrow valley with steep, rocky walls and an often-tumultuous river running through the bottom. The term comes from the French word gorge, which means throat or neck.

Wine students will easily recognize the name of the Columbia Gorge AVA, which straddles the borders of Washington State and Oregon.  The gorge itself is a deep canyon—up to 4,000 feet deep—of the Columbia River that stretches on for over 80 twisty, turn-y miles following the river as it flows west through the Cascade Mountains.  (The AVA covers about 40 of those 80 miles.) The Columbia Gorge (also technically a “water gap”) is the only water route from the Columbia River Plateau to the Pacific Ocean, and was used in 1806 by the Lewis and Clark Expedition (the first U.S. Army expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States) to reach the Pacific Coast.

The Columbia Gorge AVA is known for having a remarkable diversity of specific microclimates within its relatively small boundaries—so much so that the Columbia Gorge Winegrowers invite you to experience their “world of wine in 40 miles.” The soils of the Columbia Gorge AVA include alluvial soils from the river beds, colluvial soils from landslides, and soils from volcanic activity (hello, Mount Hood and Mount Adams). The elevation of the vineyards ranges from just above sea level to 2,000 feet high. The cool, moist air coming from the west turns warmer and drier as it travels inland, even losing an inch of rain a mile from west to east. That’s what we call diversity.

The Columbia Gorge

Geo notes: In addition to pass, gap, and gorge, other terms may be used to describe the breaks in mountain ridges: notch, saddle, and col, for example. These terms are not too sharply defined; overlaps exist, and usage may vary from place to place. No one ever said wine (or geology) was easy!

Geomorphology is the study of the origin and evolution of physical features of the surface of the earth (and other planets if you care to venture forth).

References/for more information:

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

Rah-Rah Rías!

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As a wine lover, you must surely have a place in your heart for Rías Baixas, the lovely, Albariño-based white wine from Northern Spain.* Crisp and floral, fruity and refreshing, the wines of Rías Baixas are a white wine lovers dream.

However…do you know what a ría is? The word itself sounds a lot like “río,” so you might just assume that it is a local term for “river.” In which case, you would be just a little bit correct.

A ría is actually a type of estuary. There are several types of estuaries, all of which abide by a definition such as the following:

  • Estuary: A partially-enclosed body of water, located on the coast, formed where one or more streams or rivers flow into the ocean. An estuary contains a body of brackish water (a combination of salt water and fresh water) and has an open connection to the sea.

The Cies Islands

A ría is therefore a type of estuary, also known as a drowned river valley or a coastal plain estuary. Rías were formed at the end of last ice age at places where the level of the sea rose in proportion to the coast, and sea water seeped inland into the river valleys. Rías retain the original shape of the river and are usually quite shallow. Rías typically have very rugged, jagged outlines and often include islands as well.

In the United States, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and Galveston Bay are all rías. Well-known rías in other parts of the world include Marlborough Sounds (on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island), Sydney Harbor in Australia, and the Fiordo di Furore in Campania, Italy (which is technically a ría despite its name).

The coast of Galicia is lined with rías. Those in the north are referred to as the “Rías Altas” (Upper Rías) and are aligned along the “Coast of Death.” Well, the area is not technically referred to as the Coast of Death, but the Galician “Costa da Morte” is a nickname for the region, so-called for the turbulent nature of the waters that in the past led to many shipwrecks.

Diagram of the Lower Rías by Hidrogalicia_ES, via Wikimedia Commons

The sea around the Rías Baixas, (the “Lower Rías”) is calmer, due in part to the presence of islands. The DO itself in comprised of five discontinuous areas, located close to four rías. These are, from north to south:

  • The Ría de Muros e Noia; formed where the Tambre River meets the sea. This is the smallest of the four rías and the only one not to have an island near the mouth.
  • The Ría de Arousa; formed where the Ulla River meets the sea. This is the largest of the five rías. The Ría de Arousa has two lagoons, as well as a large area of sand dunes known as the Dunas de Corrubedo.
  • The Ría de Pontevedra, located around the delightful, vacation-worthy town of the same name, is located where the Lerez River meets the sea. This ría contains a small inlet known as the Ría de Aldan.  Two small islands, Isla Ons and Isla Onza, are situated at the mouth of the ría. The islands are part of the Parque Nacional Marítimo-Terrestre de las Islas Atlánticas de Galicia.
  • The Ría de Vigo, the southernmost, is formed where the Verdugo River meets the sea. The Cíes islands, located at the mouth of the ría, make the area a safe port, and many beautiful marinas are located here.

*Technically, the white wines of the Rías Baixas DO may be produced using Albariño, Loureira, Treixadura, and Caiña Blanca grapes, along with small amounts of Torrontés or Godello—in various proportions depending on label terminology and the sub-region. The DO is also approved for the production of red wines based on Caiño Tinto, Espadeiro, Loureira Tinta, Mencía, Brancellao or Sousón.

The Rande Bridge over the Ría de Vigo

For the geo-curious: other types of estuaries include the following:

  • Fjords: Fjords are deep, steep-sided estuaries formed by glaciers. As the glaciers advanced, they would deepen and widen the original river valleys; at the end of the ice age as the glaciers retreated, they left behind the fjords. Fjords can reach depths of up to 1,000 feet (300 m). The coast of Norway is well-known for its numerous fjords; fjords also make up portions of Puget Sound (Washington State), Glacier Bay (Alaska), and Milford Sound (New Zealand).
  • Lagoons: Common in tropical areas, lagoons are formed in areas where sediment is deposited at the same rate as the sea level rises to form a body of brackish water separated from the sea by a sand spit or barrier islands. Lagoons are typically quite shallow and parallel to the shoreline, as seen in New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay and Italy’s Venetian Lagoon.
  • Freshwater Estuaries: Freshwater estuaries occur where rivers flow into fresh-water lakes. The Great Lakes, located in the United States and Canada, contain many freshwater estuaries.

Other references/for more information:

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

WineGeo: Grès des Vosges

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The wines of Alsace are a white wine lover’s dream…dry, powerful Rieslings, spicy Pinot Gris, and aromatic Gewurztraminer are just a few of the amazing white wines that are produced in Alsace. (Shout out to the Pinot Noir for red wine lovers as well.)

The soils of Alsace are just as diverse; as a matter of fact, according to the website of Wines of Alsace, “The terroir of Alsace is a geologist’s dream…if you walk 100 feet in any direction, you’ll find a different soil composition, making Alsace a complex mosaic unlike any other wine region.”

Soils underlying the vineyards in Alsace range from the schist and granite of the higher elevations (extending into the Vosges Mountains) to the limestone and chalk of the lower slopes, to the clay and gravel of the valley floors. However, it is the unique, reddish-colored sandstone of Alsace—known as grès des Vosges—that inspired this post.

For starters, grès des Vosges (Vosges sandstone) runs in a large, horizontal swath through the Vosges, underneath a granite layer (from which it is derived) and atop a layer of coal. Grès des Vosges is a hard, compact sandstone composed mainly of quartz and feldspar. Its pink-reddish color is due to the presence of decomposing iron (iron oxide, as also seen in red soils such as terra rosa) that occurred as a result of the slow cooling of large masses of magma as it hardened into granite.

The process of the coloring of the sandstone is termed rubefaction. Much of the sandstone in the Vosges is still grey, and some is still undergoing the process of rebefaction (or rebéfaction as they say in French).

The Strasbourg Cathedral, widely considered to be among the finest examples of late Gothic architecture, is partially composed of grès des Vosges, which gives the building its pink-hued appearance. The Strasbourg Cathedral was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874 (227 years). Today, it remains the sixth tallest church in the world and the tallest existing structure built entirely in the Middle Ages.

Carte topographique des Vosges by Boldair, via Wikimedia Commons

Grès des Vosges is considered a unique aspect of the Vosges Mountains and Alsace—so much so that it has earned Protected Geographical Indication status from the EU. It is also still in great demand as a building material, and as such there is also a trade organization, the Union des Producteurs de Grès des Vosges, built around promoting and protecting the stone.

And here I thought it was all about the wine.

References/for more information:

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

The (Lucky) French Thirteen

Administrative map of the 13 (new as of 2016) regions of France

Administrative map of the 13 (new as of 2016) regions of France

It’s called territorial reform.

As a citizen of the world, you have no doubt heard by now that in January of this year (2016), after years of debate, the French government reduced the number of the administrative regions in Metropolitan France from 22 to 13. This “simplification” has been dubbed le big bang des régions by the French media.

Despite their original intent (and hopefully, eventual success) such changes tend to complicate things in the short term. In this regard, we wish the French well.

On a more selfish note, as a lifelong student of wine this means I need to re-do some of my flashcards. I’m in the process of doing just that, but for now I felt the need to make a quick survey of how these new administrative regions affect the study of French wines!

First, some quick good news: A lot of wine study deals in departments, and these have not changed. There are still 101 departments in France, which include: 94 on the mainland, 2 in Corsica, and 5 overseas territories (Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Réunion, and Mayotte). Your studies of the Haut-Rhin, Gironde, and Lot-et-Garonne have not been in vain.

And for some more good news, the following administrative regions of France have not changed:

  • Bretagne (Brittany)
  • Centre (although the name has changed to Centre-Val de Loire)
  • Île-de-France
  • Pays de la Loire
  • Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
The departments - thankfully, there have been no recent changes

The departments – thankfully, there have been no recent changes

That leaves seven newly-defined regions. Here goes:

Grand Est: The newly-formed Grand Est region comprises the former regions of Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne, and Lorraine. The capital city is Strasbourg. That’s right—the Alsace region (technically) is no more. However, the wine region is still referred to as Alsace, and if you look Alsace up in a (non-wine centric) dictionary or encyclopedia, it will define it along the lines of something like “a historic and cultural area of France.” Main wine areas in the Grand Est region include Champagne (parts of which cross over into the new Hauts-de-France region to the northwest), Alsace, Moselle AOC, and Côtes de Toul AOC.

Bourgogne-Franche Comté: This new region encompasses the former regions of Bourgogne (Burgundy) and Franche Comté. The capital city is Dijon. There is nothing too complicated about this region, it is merely the coupling of two former administrative areas into one, with a hyphenated name. Wine regions affected include Burgundy (even Chablis, Irancy, and Saint-Bris made the cut) and Jura. The vineyards of Beaujolais and the Savoie AOC are now partially in the region of Bourgogne-French Comté and partially in the new region to the south (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes). The good news: the ideal pairing of white Burgundy and Comté cheese now consists of two sister products from the same region.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes: Like Bourgogne-Franche Comté, this newly-formed administrative region seems to be merely a late marriage (complete with hyphenated name) between two longtime neighbors. The capital city is Lyon. The main wine regions within the new region include all of the Northern Rhône Valley (from Côte Rotie in the north to Saint-Péray at the southern tip) and Grignan-les-Adhémar (of the Southern Rhône), parts of Beaujolais, and parts of the Savoie AOC.

Occitanie: This new region is made up of the former regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées.  The capital city is Toulouse. Just like long, lost Alsace, we will read things like “Languedoc is a former province of France. Its territory is now contained in the modern-day region of Occitanie in the south of France.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.) The Occitanie region contains all of the vineyards areas of Languedoc and Roussillon (we knew you well), as well as some of the AOCs of Southwest France, including Cahors, Floc de Gasconge, and Fronton.

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Nouvelle Aquitaine: This new region is comprised of the former regions of Aquitaine, Limousin, and Poitou-Charentes. The capital city is Bordeaux. This new area includes all of the vineyards and AOCs of Bordeaux (thank goodness), all of the Cognac-producing region and most of the Armagnac-producing areas (a portion of which stretches into Occitanie). Nouvelle Aquitaine also includes some AOCs of Southwest France, including Bergerac, Buzet, Côtes de Duras, and Monbazillac.

Normandie (Normandy): This area hasn’t changed too much; it just combines the former regions of Upper Normandy and Lower Normandy. This totally makes sense to me and seems like an actual simplification. The new capital city is Rouen. Wine production is not really a thing here, but the apple brandy (with its three Calvados AOCs) and the Camembert cheese is quite good.

Hauts-de-France: Named for this area’s location at the “top” (haut) of France, this new area comprises the two former regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy. The capital city is Lille. Not much wine production goes on in this northerly spot, aside from the fact that the official boundaries of the Champagne region extend ever-so-slightly into the Hauts-de-France’s Aisne department.

Click here for a pdf of the maps-of-france-used-in-this-post, including a blank map of the “New France.”

References/for more information:

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

A Little bit about the Lot

The town of Estaing on the Lot River

The town of Estaing on the Lot River

The Lot River has its source in south-central France, in a small mountain range known as the Cévennes. The Cévennes Range is part of, and sits alongside, the eastern edge of the much-larger Massif Central.

The highest mountain in the Cévennes is Mont Lozère, rising to 5,575 feet (1,700 m) above sea level.  It is here, on the side of Mont Lozère, that the Lot River begins its 300-mile (482 km) journey as a “winding blue ribbon” through the departments of Lozère, Aveyron, Cantal, Lot, and Lot-et-Garonne. Along this path, the Lot River flows through the AOC wine regions of Estaing, Entraygues-Le Fel, and Cahors before joining the Garonne for the final trip to the sea.

From its beginning in the Cévennes, the Lot River flows for about 60 miles alongside a plain known as L’Aubrac—named for the small town of Aubrac located on its western side. This high plateau extends almost 1,000 square miles, and was created by a series of volcanic eruptions that occurred over 6 million years ago. The plateau of L’Aubrac is somewhat defined by the Lot River; the Lot River itself forms the southern boundary, while the Truyère River defines the northern border.

On its journey across the Aubrac Plateau, the Lot River flows through the town of Estaing. Estaing is considered to be one of the most picturesque towns in all of France. Estaing is also the recipient of a rather new AOC, awarded in 2011. The wines of the Estaing AOC are red, white, or rosé, and typically dry (although off-dry styles are permitted).

The Valentre Bridge over the Lot River (Cahors)

The Valentre Bridge over the Lot River (Cahors)

The white wines of the Estaing AOC are based on a minimum of 50% Chenin Blanc and a minimum of 10% Mauzac; the remainder may include up to 25% Saint-Côme (a local grape also known as Rousselou). The red and rosé wines are based on Gamay, with Fer (Fer Servadou) required in the reds, and two accessory varieties (chosen from a long list of allowed, obscure varieties) required in the rosés.

The western boundary of the Aubrac Plateau is about ten miles upriver from Estaing, at the town of Entraygues-sur-Truyère.  Entraygues-sur-Truyère was founded where the Truyère River (a right tributary of the Lot) flows into the Lot River as it continues its journey down the eastern foothills of the Massif Central.

From Entraygues-sur-Truyère, the Lot River twists and turns for about 4 more miles before it reaches the town of Le Fel. Between these two towns you will find the terraced vineyards of the obscure yet delightful Entraygues-Le Fel AOC. This is a tiny AOC, consisting of about 50 acres in total.

Red, white, and rosé wines are produced here; they are mostly dry but off-dry styles are allowed as well. The white wines of the Entraygues-Le Fel AOC are based on a minimum of 90% Chenin Blanc; the remaining 10% may comprise either Mauzac or Saint-Côme. The red and rosé wines are blends, based on Fer, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus small allowed amounts of Mouyssaguès and Négret de Banhars. No single grape may be more than 60% of the blend.

Panoramic view of Cahors, surrounded by the Lot River

Panoramic view of Cahors, surrounded by the Lot River

After leaving the town of Le Fel, the Lot River twists and turns through the hills, limestone plateaus, and valleys for about 70 more miles until it reaches the town of Cahors. Here, the Malbec-dominated vineyards of the Cahors AOC follow the twists and turns of the Lot River for over 25 miles. Cahors is a red wine-only AOC, producing the deep, dark, spicy wines known as the “Black Wine of Cahors.” Cahors AOC is produced using a minimum of 70% Malbec, with Tannat and Merlot allowed for the remainder.

The vineyards of Cahors are planted on two distinct soils; those closest to the river are planted on gravelly slopes, while those farther from the river are planted on the area’s limestone plateaus (known as the Causses). Wines produced using grapes planted on the limestone plateaus are known to be more tannic and austere, while grapes planted closer to the river produce wines that are fruitier and more approachable while young.

After the Lot River leaves the vineyards of Cahors behind, it continues to wind its way for another 60 miles before it reaches the town of Aiguillon. At Aiguillon (a commune of the aptly-named Lot-et-Garonne Department), the Lot River joins the Garonne River for its final journey through the vineyards of Bordeaux, into the Gironde Estuary, and finally out to sea.

Map of the Lot River by Lemen, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the Lot River by Lemen, via Wikimedia Commons

References/for more information:

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