Good Water and the Riddoch Highway: the Padthaway GI

Photo of Henry’s Drive via: https://www.henrysdrive.com/media-and-trade

Padthaway is a wine region in South Australia, located just to the north of Wrattonbully and about 40 miles (64 km) inland from the coast. The area is flat, with the highest elevation reaching just 165 feet (50 m) high. Most of the area sits atop a shallow ridge located along the western slope of West Naracoorte Range—which runs parallel to the ocean. The climate has both maritime and Mediterranean influences, and there are a variety of soil types as well—including the famous terra rossa shared with Coonawarra and Wrattonbully, its neighbors-to-the-south.

Padthaway—as would be expected due to its flat terrain and slightly-inland setting—is the warmest of the six wine regions located in Australia’s Limestone Coast Zone. The first vineyards of the area were planted by Karl Seppelt in 1963, and soon thereafter many of Australia’s other big-name wine companies—including Wynn’s, Lindeman’s, Hardys, and Penfolds—soon followed suit. The area was officially declared the Padthaway Geographical Indication in 1999.

While many of the grapes grown in the Padthaway Region still make their way to large wineries in other regions, Padthaway now has about two dozen small producers making local wine. These include Henry’s Drive Vignerons and Padthaway Estate—both of which offer tastings at the cellar door.

Map of Padthaway via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

The name Padthaway—meaning “good water”—was bestowed upon the region by its original inhabitants, the Potawurutj Aboriginines.  The shape and size of the area is unique—long and narrow, stretching for over 38 miles (62 km) following the Riddoch Highway from the town of Naraccorte to just north of the town of Padthaway. By contrast, the region is a mere 5 miles (8 km) wide at its widest point. The Riddoch Highway is named after John Riddoch, a businessman who—in the 1890’s—planted the first vineyards in the area, in what is now known as Coonawarra.

The Padthaway GI currently has about 10,000 acres (4,050 ha) planted to vines. About 60% of the vines are red grapes, led by Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon with a bit of Merlot and Pinot Noir in the mix. Of the 40% planted to white grapes, the majority are Chardonnay—along with a smattering of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc.

We seem to be publishing a series of posts on Australia’s Limestone Coast. Click here to read the first installment (Mount Benson) and here to read the second (Mount Gambier). Soon to come: Coonawarra, Wrattonbully, and Robe.

References/for more information:

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

The Newer Volcanics and Leg of Mutton Lake: the Mount Gambier GI

Blue Lake at Mount Gambier, South Australia

In terms of wine regulations, Mount Gambier is the youngest of the six regions that make up Australia’s Limestone Coast wine zone. The first vineyards here were planted in the 1980’s, with the area being officially declared the Mount Gambier Geographical Indication in 2010. Most of Mount Gambier’s vines were planted between 2001 and 2010.

The Mount Gambier GI is located in the southeast corner of the state of South Australia, bordering the state of Victoria to the west, the Coonawarra Region to the north, and the ocean to the south. The area surrounds the town of Mount Gambier as well as Mount Gambier itself.

Mount Gambier (the mountain), considered a young and not-quite-dormant volcano, rises to a height of 620 feet (190 m). The top of Mount Gambier is crowned with a landmark known as the Centenary Tower, built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Mountain’s sighting by European explorers and it’s naming in honor of Lord James Gambier, the admiral of the fleet. The mountain is also known as Ereng Balam—the name given to the mountain by the original Aboriginal inhabitants of the area—meaning “home of the eagle hawk.”

The Newer Volcanics: Mount Gambier is part of the Newer Volcanics—a chain of small volcanoes and mantle plumes formed by the East Australia Hotspot that stretches across Southeastern Australia. These volcanoes are the source of the young volcanic soils that are found in the area—in addition to the limestone formed many millennia ago. Click here to see a surprising map of Australia’s Newer Volcanics. 

Photo of Leg of Mutton Lake circa 1880, via the State Library of South Australia #B 21766/6 (Public Domain)

Leg of Mutton Lake: The area on and surrounding Mount Gambier (the mountain) contains four maars—volcanic craters with low rims—that have filled with rain water to become the four lakes of the area: Blue Lake, Leg of Mutton Lake, Valley Lake, and Browns Lake. Two of these, Browns Lake and Leg of Mutton Lake, have become dry in recent years due to the lowering of the water table. The irresistibly-named Leg of Mutton Lake is, as one would hope, so-called due to its shape. Both of the surviving lakes—Blue Lake and Valley Lake—are surrounded by pine trees and hiking trails despite being located just outside of the town center.

Blue Lake, as its name would imply, turns a vibrant cobalt-blue color (from its more typical steely-grey) every December through May. The precise cause of the changing color is not quite agreed-upon, but most scientists believe it to be the result of the warming of the surface layers of the lake, which allows tiny crystallites of calcium carbonate (a by-product of the region’s limestone bedrock) to form. This phenomenon results in a scattering of the blue wavelengths of sunlight, creating the bright blue hue. Blue Lake is about 240 feet (73 m) deep, making the bottom of the lake itself about 98 feet (30 m) below the level of the town’s main street (Commercial Street).

Map of the Limestone Coast Zone via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

The Wines of the Mount Gambier GI: There are currently 470 acres (190 ha) of vines planted in the Mount Gambier GI. Of these, 66% are white grapes including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris (in that order) along with smatterings of Viognier, Riesling, and Semillon. Of the 34% of the vines that are planted to red grapes, the great majority are Pinot Noir, along with smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Wineries operating out of the Mount Gambier GI include Benarra Vineyards, Blue Water Wines, Caroline Hills, Herbert Vineyards and Nangwarry Station. Few if any of these wines are exported to the United States, so you’ll want to seek them out on your next trip to South Australia. Mount Gambier is located mid-way between Adelaide and Melbourne and just a day’s drive (280 miles/450 km) away from each.

References/for more information:

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

 

The Bight, the Cape, and the Bright Red Soil: The Mount Benson GI

Map of the Limestone Coast Zone via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

Mount Benson is a wine region located along Australia’s Limestone Coast. The area, which stretches for about nine miles alongside the ocean, attained its status as an official Geographical Indication in 1997.

The area has a mostly maritime climate—not surprising considering its rugged coastal location—and enjoys a long, cool growing season. Vines are planted at low elevations; with the vineyards closest to the shore planted at about 16 feet (5 m) above sea level and continuing inland through rolling hills that top out at 160 feet (50 m) of elevation.

In addition to Mount Benson itself—which is actually a 250 foot-high (77 m-high) hill—three interesting geographical features help to define the terroir and culture of the Mount Benson GI: the Great Australian Bight, Cape Jaffa, and terra rossa soils.

The Bright Red Soil: Portions of the Mount Benson GI are rich with terra rossa soil, which is much more famously part of the Coonawarra Region located about 65 miles to the east/southeast. There are many theories about the genesis of terra rossa, but it is typically found above a bedrock of limestone and believed to form as the bedrock decomposes. Briefly stated, as calcium carbonate in the limestone weathers, it mixes with clay and other soil particles and forms a series of layers on top of the bedrock. As the iron particles in the soil absorb oxygen (oxidize), they change color and lend a reddish hue to the soil.

Map of Australia by Norman Einstein via Wikimedia Commons

The Bight: The 9 mile- (15 km-) long coastline of the Mount Benson GI runs alongside a portion of the Great Australian Bight. (A bight is simply an open bay.) The Great Australian Bight basically runs along the entire south coast of Australia, making it one of the largest bights in the world. There are several dueling definitions of the parameters of the bight; however, in Australia (according to the Australian Hydrographic Service) it is considered to run for 720 miles/1,160 km from Cape Pasley, Western Australia, to Cape Carnot, South Australia.

The Cape: Cape Jaffa, located at the northwest corner of the Mount Benson GI,  is an area of headlands (a place characterized by rocky shores, steep sea cliffs, and breaking waves) located just south of Lacepede Bay. The headlands of Cape Jaffa extend along the coast for about 1.25 miles (2 km) and inland to Mount Benson. There is also a (very) small town and a marina known as Cape Jaffa.

The historic Cape Jaffa Lighthouse (now on display in Kingston)

More to our purposes is Cape Jaffa Wines.  Cape Jaffa produces a wide range of interesting wines, including varietally-labeled Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz produced with fruit from a variety of areas including Mount Benson, the Limestone Coast, and Wrattonbully (located inland from Mount Benson). Other wines include “Anna’s Blend”—named after winemaker Anna Hooper and consisting of barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon alongside a splash of Gewurztraminer—as well as “Samphire Skin Contact White” fermented in a ceramic egg  with six months of skin contact. The Cape Jaffa cellar door is located just about six miles (9 km) from the sea.

Currently there are about 1,500 acres (600 ha) planted to vine in Mount Benson. The region is planted approximately 70% to red grapes, led by Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; and 30% to white grapes led by Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Besides Cape Jaffa Wines, other wineries in the region include Cape Thomas Wines, Ralph Fowler Wines, Norfolk Rise Winery,  and Wangolina Wines. Mount Benson wines are apt to be difficult to find in the United States, so a trip to Australia might be in order.

References/for more information:

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

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—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

Zip and Zest: Five Fast Facts about Tartaric Acid (and Wine)

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Is it weird that tartaric acid has been on my mind a lot lately? I suppose dreams of tartaric acid are not so unusual for those inclined to the study of wine, and a little bit of a treatise on tartaric might be just the ticket to soothe my soul. So here goes, five fast facts about tartaric acid!

#1: When it comes to tartaric acid, grapes rule: Tartaric acid is one of the main natural acids found in grapes and —interestingly enough—grapes have a higher concentration of tartaric acid than any other fruit or vegetable. Besides grapes, measurable quantities of tartaric acid can be found in avocadoes, bananas, cherries, and grapefruit. However…for the record, most fruits and vegetables—including blackberries, blueberries, apples, apricots, peaches, pears, pineapples, plums, lemons, limes, oranges, and tomatoes—are high in malic acid and citric acid, but contain very little (if any) tartaric acid.

#2: Tartaric acid is tongue-tingling and truly tart: Tartaric acid is typically the strongest acid in both grapes and wine, as measured by pH and volume. Tartaric acid typically accounts for one-half to two-thirds of the acid content of ripe grapes. As such, tartaric acid is one of the most important fixed (non-volatile) acids in wine, along with malic acid.

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#3: Tartaric acid is strong and stable, part one: Tartaric acid is often used as an additive in winemaking (for good reason): In addition to the obvious impact on taste and flavor, proper levels of tartaric acid are important to the microbial stability of a wine. Tartaric acid resists decomposition and microbial attack, and is therefore often used as an additive  when acidification is needed. Malic acid, on the other hand, is easily broken down by malolactic fermentation or other processes. For these reasons and more, tartaric acid is the substance most often used when acidification is needed in the winemaking process.

#4: Tartaric acid is strong and stable, part two: Tartaric acid typically is contained in wine grapes at a concentration between 2.5 to 5 g/L at harvest, and it remains relatively stable throughout the ripening process. Conversely, wine grapes often contain more than 20 g/L of malic acid prior to veraison—however, a good deal of this is used for energy during respiration. Levels of malic acid at harvest are typically closer to 1 to 4 g/L. Tartaric acid is also metabolized during respiration, but at much lower levels than malic acid.

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#5: Tartaric acid is related to, but not (quite) the same thing as cream of tartar: Students of wine are sure to be familiar with the propensity of tartaric acid to form wine diamonds (particles that separate from the wine and look like tiny crystals of rock salt). Wine diamonds can form in the tank, during barrel aging, or in the bottle—particularly if the wine is subjected to cold temperatures. Tartrates can be prevented in the bottle via pre-bottling cold stabilization. Tartrate crystals scraped from the interior of oak barrels once inhabited by high-acid wines can be used to produce cream of tartar—a white powder that is often used as a stabilizing or leavening agent in cooking (particularly with egg whites, sugar work, or baking). Cream of tartar is basically partially-neutralized tartaric acid, produced by combining tartaric acid with potassium hydroxide. Cream of tartar, when used in baking, helps to activate baking soda, which is alkaline. As a matter of fact, cream of tartar combined with baking soda is the formula for baking powder.

References/for more information:

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

I’ve been Shattered

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As a good student of wine, I can tell you what shatter, aka coulure is. I can even quote (probably verbatim) the information on it from the CSW Study Guide—here goes!

“A malady known as coulure (“shatter” in English) can cause poor fruit set, with many flowers failing to become fully developed berries.”

Yep. That’s it—and that was about the extent of my knowledge until one night when I suddenly wanted to know more. So, a few textbooks, websites, and phone calls later, here is what I now know about coulure.

For starters, the word is pronounced “coo-LYUR.”

Put simply, coulure occurs when a large number of a vine’s grape blossoms stay closed, or for some other reason they fail to become fertilized. These failed flowers never get the chance to develop into grape berries but rather shrivel and fall off the vine.

In French, weather-induced coulure is referred to as coulure climatique, and the main culprit behind coulure is indeed the weather.

  • The uncooperative weather—when too cold, rainy, or wet (shatter is a bigger threat in areas with marginal climates)—slows down the plant’s rate of photosynthesis, which leads to carbohydrate deficiencies in the vine. This deficiency causes the vine to conserve its resources, and the energy that would go into ripening flowers and fruit is diverted elsewhere. The blossoms eventually shrivel and drop off, along with the small stems that attached the blossoms to the vine.
  • Excessively high temperatures during flowering and fruit set can cause coulure—again as a result of the shut down of photosynthesis—as the necessary enzymes lose their shape and functionality. In a prolonged heat event, coulure may be caused via excessive shoot-and-leaf growth as well as cellular respiration, either of which can lead to carbohydrate deficiencies.

Photo by Hvczech (Public Domain/via Wikimedia Commons)

Besides the weather, coulure can be caused by overly-fertile vineyard soils and excessive use of high-nitrogen fertilizers, both of which can lead to excessively vigorous vine growth that can drain a plant’s carbohydrate reserves. Another possible cause is overly vigorous pruning, which can fail to provide enough potential for the growth of amount of leaf grown necessary for photosynthesis. In addition, certain grapes, such as Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, and Muscat Ottonel are particularly prone to coulure.

Coulure is not always preventable, but some good practices to follow include:

  • Taking care not to over-prune and encouraging the vines to develop enough leaf coverage to provide for adequate photosynthesis.
  • Tip-trimming (snipping the tips of developing shoots) near the end of the flowering period can help prevent carbohydrate deficiencies.
  • In some places, performing winter pruning late in the season may reduce the risk of coulure by delaying bud break which in turn increases the probably for warmer weather at flowering.

Hopefully, all this chitter-chatter has cleared up a bit about shatter (sha ooobie shatter)!

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

Chasing Chasselas

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All of the grape varieties in France are chasing Chasselas—or ahead of Chasselas, or running side-by-side with Chasselas.

And you thought Chasselas was just an insignificant little grape that only Switzerland cares about. Think again.

Late last night while I was studying the Bordeaux Wine Guide published by the CIVB (Counseil Interprofessional du Vin de Bordeaux) I saw it right there on page 43: “In France the main families of grapes are defined (by typical time of ripening) according to the usual maturity date of Chasselas (the reference variety).”

I had to read it twice and call four of my wine friends to see if they had ever heard of Chasselas being France’s reference variety. No one had. As such, I did a bit of research.

The quick version is: it’s true.

Back in the 1800s, a French ampelographer named Victor Pulliat (1827-1896) created a classification of grape varieties—The Pulliat Classification—based on their typical ripening date in relation to the Chasselas Doré grape variety

The Pulliat Classification breaks down as follows:

  • Early-ripening grape varieties:  Ripen from eight to ten days ahead of Chasselas Doré
  • First-period grape varieties: Ripen at about the same time as Chasselas Doré
  • Second-period grape varieties: Ripen from 12 to 15 days after Chasselas Doré
  • Third-period grape varieties: Ripen from 16 to 30 days after Chasselas Doré
  • Late-ripening grapes: Typically ripen more than 31 days after Chasselas Doré

Chasselas grapes on day zero (?)

The Pulliat Classification seems like an interesting bit of history in the world of wine, but as I just learned, it is still used. These days, however, the Winkler Scale created by Maynard Amerine and A. J. Winkler of UC Davis—which measures ripening in terms of degree-days or heat summation—is in wider use. The Winkler Scale was designed in 1944 to be used in California but has since been used in many wine growing regions all over the world.

References/for further information:

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