Shades of Schistosity

Shale

As a truly committed student of wine, you probably know that shale is a type of soft, foliated sedimentary rock composed (at least in part) of clay minerals and (sometimes) volcanic ash. Shale has visible stratification and a tendency to break or split along “layers” (known as “planes of weakness” or “rock cleavage” in geo-speak). This tendency to split along planes is known as fissility (which is just such a fun word).

You might also know that shale is well-represented in the vineyards of the world, including the Finger Lakes AVA (in New York State) and the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA (in California). Other wine areas known for shale-influenced soils include the western side of Paso Robles, the Mayacamas Mountains (between Napa and Sonoma), Heiligenstein (Alsace), and Austria’s Wachau region.

Shale is fascinating on its own but there’s more to the story, as shale can be transformed into slate, schist, or gneiss. These three types of rock are produced via varying degrees of metamorphism—changes resulting from heat, pressure, and deformation—and they all have different appearances and characteristics. Some of these differences are discussed below:

Slate

Slate: Slate, formed from shale, is a finely grained rock that may be formed under relatively low temperature and pressure conditions (low-grade metamorphism). Slate tends to be one solid color in addition to being very hard and brittle; when broken, it will form flat, smooth surfaces. Germany has several vineyards areas celebrated for their slate soils; these include the Mosel and the Rheingau—both of which also have significant outcroppings of shale (now we know why). Other wine areas rich in slate include the Clare Valley, the Cebreros VCIG (in Castilla y León), and Chile’s Aconcagua Valley.

Schist: Schist is formed (from slate or mudstone) under moderate levels of heat and pressure (metamorphic forces). Schist is identifiable by its visible “grains” (in layered formation), dull luster, and schistosity—the layer-like foliation that is found in certain coarse-grained metamorphic rocks. Despite the fact that it reminds me of a wine-geeky, made-up word (like matchsticky or porch-pounder), schistosity is a real thing.

Schist

Several vineyard regions are regarded as rich in both slate and schist; these include Priorat (Spain) and the Douro Valley (of Portugal). Parts of Tuscany are known for galestro—a soil rich in both clay and schist. Other areas known to be rich in schist include Corbières, Côte-Rôtie, Kastelberg (Alsace), the Valais (Switzerland), Ribeira Sacra, and Savennières. These areas are often described as having schistous soils—although schistous is definitely a made-up/wine geek word and does not appear in the geological lexicon (Maltman: Vineyards, Rocks, and Soils, p. 103). Schistes, however, is a real word (in French)—there is even a wine association to prove it: L’Association des Terroirs de Schistes.

Gneiss

Gneiss: Given the right combination of intense heat, pressure, and (perhaps) chemical activity, schist can transform into gneiss. Gneiss has visible “bands” of various colors composed of various minerals (gneissose banding). Having been formed under intense metamorphic pressures, gneiss is much heavier and harder than slate and schist and does not typically break along its foliation planes.

Vineyard regions known for gneiss include the Pays Nantais, Margaret River, Wachau, Kamptal, and the Middleburg AVA in Virginia (USA).

  • If you’d like to learn more about dirt, rocks, and soils, join me on May 2 (10:00 am) or May 6 (7:00 pm) for SWE’s Webinar, the Dish on Dirt. It’s free, and open-to-the-public. All of the other info is in the link.

References/for more information:

  • Feiring, Alice (2017). The Dirty Guide to Wine. New York: The Countryman Press.
  • Franzmeier, Donald, William McFee, John Graveel, and Helmut Kohnke (2016). Soil Science Simplified, 5th edition. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press.
  • Maltman, Alex (2018). Vineyards, Rocks, & Soils: The Wine Lover’s Guide to Geology. New York, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Robinson, Jancis and Julia Harding: The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th Edition. Oxford, 2015: The Oxford University Press.
  • White, Robert (2009). Understanding Vineyard Soils. Oxford University Press.
  • http://www.terroirsdeschistes.com/
  • https://geology.com/rocks

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

 

 

Aspect: East, West, (and Romeo’s)

What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Many people will recognize these famous lines  from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Act 2, Scene 2) . However, it would take a true-and-total wine geek to understand how hearing that line—one of the most romantic ever written—inspired me to write a blog post about east-west aspect and its effect on a vineyard (and yet it did). Something about Romeo invoking the sun rising in the east reminded me of the concept of eastern aspect—as it was used in a recent discussion of the vineyards of the Côte d’Or—and here we are.

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Wine students are well-aware that in the Northern Hemisphere, south-facing slopes (hillsides with southern aspect) receive the benefit of more direct sunlight (solar radiation/insolation) than other areas (those that are flat or facing north). These directions are flip-flopped in the Southern Hemisphere, where hillsides with a northern aspect have the sunshine advantage. The CliffsNotes version of north-south aspect is that if a hill faces the equator, it receives the bonus insolation.

Lesser known to wine students (but very important to realtors, as I learned) are the effects of eastern and western aspects, as discussed below:

Eastern aspect: These vineyards receive sunshine in the morning, when the sun’s rays are at their gentlest, and the ambient temperature is comparatively cool. This morning glow helps to dry out the vineyards from dew and overnight rain, helping to prevent fungi, mildew, and some disease. Eastern aspect can “kick-start” photosynthesis in the morning and can also help prevent vines from over-heating in the hot afternoons. Vineyards with eastern aspect tend to have lower maximum daytime temperatures, cooler overall ambient temperatures, and may experience delayed budbreak as compared to other spots.

Western aspect: Vineyards on west-facing slopes receive a good deal of sunlight during the afternoon—typically the warmest time of the day. Vineyards with western aspect may warm earlier in the spring and be among the first vines to undergo budbreak. Western aspect can be especially beneficial in areas near the coast and other places that are susceptible to wind and marginal weather. Western aspect can be a boon to late-ripening and heat-seeking grapes that require a lot of warmth and energy in order to fully ripen. However, It can be a challenge in areas prone to humidity, as the drying-out of dew-, fog-, or rain-related moisture will occur later in the day (as compared to east-facing vines).

Does that make sense to you, Romeo?

References/for more information:

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

 

Dolomite and the Dolomites

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Dolomite (which sounds to my ear like “dynamite”) is a loaded word with several meanings. The term may be used to refer to a mineral, a rock, a mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or a region (loosely defined as an area stretching across the northern reaches of Trentino/Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli (perhaps), and a small part of Austria as well).

Starting with the most basic use of the term—the mineral—dolomite is largely composed of calcium carbonate and magnesium. Dolomite (the mineral) is often found in long-buried sedimentary stones and bedrock. These stones are often known as dolostone or simply dolomite.

Sharp students of wine and/or geology may have recognized the previous mention of calcium carbonate and considered that dolomite (the stone) might be similar to limestone. This is true: dolomite and limestone are very similar, and form in the same manner—that is, via sedimentation in warm, calcium carbonate-rich, shallow waters. The main difference between the formation of limestone and dolomite is that dolomite contains more magnesium. Dolomite is sometimes even formed from limestone, as limestone is modified by magnesium-rich limewater. The resulting rock may be termed dolomite or dolomitc limestone.

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Dolomite (the stone) is famously found in several specific portions of the Italian Alps, and one such range—made up of 18 peaks reaching high above the surrounding valleys—is known as the Dolomites.

The Dolomites (the mountains) stretch across 350,000 acres (140,000 ha) and form a series of sheer walls, steep valleys, pinnacles, steeples, and cliffs. Fifteen of the Dolomite Mountain peaks are more than 10,000 feet (3,300 m) high and some of the sheer rock cliffs tower as much as 4,425 feet (1,500 m) higher than the surrounding countryside. The sheer rocks reflect the sunlight and glimmer in a range of pink, gold, and coral hues—contrasted by the forests and meadows below. This stunning natural beauty is part of the reason the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.

The Vigneti delle Dolomit IGT: Wine enthusiasts may remember seeing the term “dolomite” on a wine label hailing from Trentino, Alto Adige, or the northern reaches of Veneto (sometimes a portion of Friuli is included in the loop as well)—calling attention to the well-drained, alkaline, and mineral-rich soils of the area. There is even an geographical indication—Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica)—named for the dolomites, covering the area and including parts of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto. As the German language is also widely spoken in this area, the Vignetti delle Dolomiti IGT is also known as the Weinberg Dolomiten.

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Wines produced under the Vigneti delle Dolomit IGT are made in many styles—including still and sparkling wines of red, white, and rosé—as well as passito (dried grape) and dessert wines (also of red, white, and rosé). A long list of grape varieties are allowed, including international superstars Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir). However, some of the more interesting and indigenous grapes of the area are cultivated here as well. These include Marzemino, Nosiola, and Teroldego, as described below:

  • Marzemino: Marzemino is a red grape, native to northern Italy. It is known for producing light-to-medium bodied wines with crisp acidity, dark color, and flavors of sour cherry, violets, plums, and herbs. It is often used in red blends, and may be used to produce a dried-grape, passito-style sweet wine. However, its leading claim to fame is that it was beloved by Mozart, and mentioned in his opera Don Giovanni: “Versa il vino! Eccellente Marzimino!” (Pour the wine, the excellent Marzemino)!
  • Teroldego: A darkly-hued red grape native to Trentino, Teroldego produces medium-to-full bodied red wines with intense color, moderate tannins, crisp acidity, and a hint of bitterness. Studies show it is related to Syrah, which helps to explain the typical flavors of sour cherry, licorice, hints of tar, almond and herbs. Oak-aged versions can be spicy and redolent of pine. The Teroldego Rotaliano DOC, located in the northern section of the Trentino province, is approved for the production of 100% Teroldego-based red or rosato (rosé) wines.
  • Nosiola: Nosiola is a golden-skinned white grape variety native to Trentino used to produce crisp, clean, and easy-drinking table wines as well as sweet (late-harvest, botrytis-affected, or passito) sweet wines (including Vin Santo). Dry wines tends to be fruity, floral, and herbal in tone, while sweet wines tend to show a nutty hazelnut character. This makes sense, as the name of the grape—Nosiola—is based on an Italian term for hazelnut: nocciola.

The vineyards of Trentino/Alto Adige, northern Veneto and Friuli contain abundant fragments of dolomite as well as the weathered remnants of the Alps, carried down to the vineyards via gravity, water, and other forces. So, while a springtime trip to the Dolomites sounds delightful, and nice glass of Marzemino or vino bianco from Trentino might be a good substitute (for now).

A shout-out to science: The Dolomites are named in honor of Dieudonné Dolomieu, an 18th-century French geologist who made the first scientific study of the geology of the region.

References/for more information:

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

Rendzina Soil and the Wokewine Mountains: the Robe GI

The historic Cape Dombey Obelisk in Robe, South Australia

Robe—one of the six wine regions located in South Australia’s Limestone Coast Zone—is named for the small township of Robe, located on the shores of Guichen Bay.  Robe was named after the fourth Governor of South Australia, Major Frederick Robe, who chose the site as a port in 1845.

The area—with its unspoiled, rugged coastline and multiple lakes—has a long history of aquaculture, agriculture, and tourism. Robe bills itself as “Australia’s Favorite Seaside Town” and is listed as one of the “Top 50 small towns in Australia.” Fishing, boating, hiking, camping, and sea-side conservation areas are a big deal in Robe.

As might be expected, the area enjoys a degree of fame for its seafood—particularly the lobster—but viticulture is a fairly new arrival to the area.

Photo of the seaside town of Robe by Kym Farnik via Wikimedia Commons

The area’s first vineyards were planted as recently as 1989, with the first commercial vineyards planted by Penfolds in 1994. Other (mostly independent) wineries followed suit and today you can find several wineries—including Karatta Wines, Woodsoak Wines, and Governor Robe Wines—in the area.  The Robe wine region, which stretches along the coast from the town of Robe to the town of Beachport in the south, was officially recognized as a Geographical Indication in 2006.

This coast-side location makes for a cool climate and resultant long ripening season. However, the area’s commercial vineyards are planted on the eastern (inland) side of the Wokewine Mountains, which provide a bit of a barrier to the cool ocean breezes. The mountains also provide a small degree of altitude—many vineyards are planted at elevations of 164 feet (50 m) to as high as 495 feet (51 m)—as well as some areas of northern exposure ideal for red grapes (remember, we are in the Southern Hemisphere so northern exposure = more sun). The many large lakes located between the mountains and the coast also help moderate the climate somewhat.

Map of the Robe GI via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

The area has a wide range of soil types, which includes the famous terra rosa found throughout much of the Limestone Coast Zone. Many vineyards are planted on rendzina soils, a specific type of darkly-colored clay-and-humus-rich terra rosa found mainly in mountainous regions.

Today, there are a total of 1,705 acres (690 ha) of vines planted in the Robe G.I. Of these, 72% are planted to red grapes, led by Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, and Merlot (in that order). Of the 28% planted to white grapes, Chardonnay makes up the great majority, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Semillon.

Many of the grapes grown in the Robe area are used, somewhat anonymously, for wines labeled under the Limestone Coast, South Australia, or South Eastern Australia Geographical Indications. However, those bottled under the Robe G.I. are worth seeking out. If you find yourself in South Australia sometime soon, you’ll want to make sure to treat yourself to some of that Guichen Bay lobster and a bottle of Robe Chardonnay.

This is the sixth and final installation in our six-part series on Australia’s Limestone Coast. Click here for the first article, on the Mount Benson GIclick here for the article on Mount Gambier, here for the article on Coonawarra, here for the article on Wrattonbully, and here for the article on Padthaway. 

References/for more information:

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

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

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