Wine Geo: The Camargue

The largest river delta in Europe—the Rhône River Delta—lies just south of the town of Arles, France. Known as the Camargue, this area—located within the aptly named Bouches-du-Rhône (Mouths of the Rhône) Department—is a vast plain dotted with brine lagoons (étangs), sandbars, and marshlands surrounded by a large area of rich agricultural cultivation.

The Camargue is tucked between the two arms of the Rhône River Delta—the Grande Rhône (on the eastern edge), and the smaller Petite Rhône (along the west). A large portion (as much as a third of the total area) is a protected nature reserve and part of the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue. The area is one of the few European habitats for the Greater Flamingo and home to hundreds of species of unique flora and fauna, including the beautiful, white-grey, semi-wild breed of Camargue Horses.

Aside from the protected areas, ranching and agriculture rule the Camargue. The region is one of the largest producers of rice in Europe and has achieved a protected geographical indication (PGI/IGP) for Riz de Camargue, cultivated since the 1600s.  The rice fields in the area provide most of the rice consumed in France and also allow for the other main crops of the Camargue—including cereal gains and grapevines—by desalinating the water and soil.

The best-known wine of the region is bottled under the Sable de Camargue PGI. As befits the area’s location—on the Mediterranean Coast and tucked between Provence, the southern Rhône Valley, and the eastern reaches of the Languedoc—94% of the wine produced is rosé. Vin gris (a very pale pink style of rosé produced via direct press followed by little-to-no maceration time on the grape skins) and gris de gris (an ultra-pale vin gris made from lighter/thinner-skinned grapes) are regional specialties. Whites, reds, and sparkling wines mare made in small amounts; and all of the wines are meant to be delicate, fresh, and reflective of the ethereal landscape and sable (sand)-based soils of the area.

  • The wines of the Sable de Camargue PGI may be produced using the following grape varieties:
    • Rosé/vin gris (may be still or sparkling): minimum 70% Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Cinsaut, Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris, Merlot, and/or Syrah; up to 30% Aubun, Marselan, Tempranillo, and/or any of the grapes allowed for white wines
    • Gris de Gris (still/non-sparkling only): Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris, Carignan, and/or Cinsaut
    • Rouge/red (may be still or sparkling): minimum 70% Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache Noir, Merlot, Marselan, Syrah, and/or Petit Verdot; up to 30% Alicante Bouschet, Aubun, Carignan, and/or Tempranillo
    • Blanc/white (may be still or sparkling): minimum 70% Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Muscat à Petits Grains, Muscat d’Alexandrie, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Ugni Blanc, and/or Viognier; up to 30% Carignan Blanc, Colombard, and/or Rolle (Vermentino)

The Camargue is also known for its fleur de sel (salt). Salt has been harvested in the marshlands since the Middle Ages, when several religious orders (including the Benedictines and the Cistercians) settled in the area and established several “salt abbeys,” made wealthy through the extraction of salt.  The remains of one—the Benedictine Abbey of Psalmody—was declared a Monument Historique in 1984.

The black cattle of the area—Raço di Biòu—are spread over dozens of ranches and tended to by the gardians (herders). The bulls are the stars of the Course Camarguaise—a type of bloodless bullfight where the object of the raseteur is to grab a rosette from between the horns of the bull. The cattle are also bred for beef and the meat of the young bull—a protected product known as Taureau du Camargue AOC—is bright red, ultra-lean, tender, and meant to be consumed extra-rare.

Note of intrigue: France, it seems, is looking to promote the wines of the Sable de Camargue from PGI to PDO status. Witness the action taken on May 31, 2022, when France simultaneously submitted an application to the EU for a Sable de Camargue PDO and requested cancellation of the Sable de Camargue PGI. Who know how long this will take, and if it even ends up being successful, but we be watching for an update!

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Five Fast Facts about the Bay of Biscay

Biarritz (France)

If you are a wine student who has studied Bordeaux, you’ve heard of the Bay of Biscay. If you have dreamed of traveling to the resort town of Biarritz, you’ve heard of the Bay of Biscay.  If you are a sailor who likes a challenge, you’ve heard of the Bay of Biscay. If you are interested in learning more, read on for five fast facts about the Bay of Biscay!

#1: The name and the place: The Bay of Biscay is a portion of the Atlantic Ocean located off the west coast of France and the northern coast of Spain. It stretches from Point Penmarch (a small peninsula in Brittany’s Finistère department) in the north to Cape Ortegal (a headland on the shores of A Coruña, Galicia) in the south. It is named for the province of Biscay—a sub-region of Basque Autonomous Community of Spain (Comunidad Autónoma del País Vasco).

If you sailed from Point Penmarch to Cape Ortegal (you might want to consult item #5 before doing so), you would cover 360 miles/580km; if you drove the coast, you would cover 914 miles/1,475 km and pass through the cities of Nantes, Bordeaux, Bayonne, San Sebastian, and Bilbao.

#2: It’s a bay…it’s a gulf…it’s a sea: The term Bay of Biscay is used mostly by English Speakers. In France, this area is known as the Golfe de Gascogne (Gulf of Gascony), and many Spanish speakers know it as the Golfo de Vizcaya (Gulf of Biscay/Vizcaya). In Spain, the waters just off the coast of Northern Spain (stretching east to the French city of Bayonne) are known as the Mar Cantábrico (Cantabrian Sea).

  • For the geo-curious: Terms such as bay, gulf, and sea are loosely defined. However, according to the National Geographic Education Resource Library:
    • A bay is any body of water partially surrounded by land.
    • A gulf is a portion of the ocean that penetrates land. (As such, the terms bay and gulf are largely interchangeable.) While there are some exceptions (such as the Bay of Bengal), in common use a gulf is larger than a bay.
    • Sea is a broad term that may be applied to more than 50 different types of water formations; this term is typically reserved for bodies of salt water.

#3: The Rennell Current: Several ocean currents flow through the Bay of Biscay, all of which are considered branches of the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream—named for its source (the Gulf of Mexico, at 20°N)—carries warm water northward and eventually reaches the northern coast of Europe. The portion of the current flowing closest to the coast in the Bay of Biscay is known as the Rennell Current, named for James Rennell (1742–18300, a British geographer and oceanographer who studied and mapped many ocean currents. It is estimated that the Rennell Current can have a warming effect of up to 4°(F) on the areas along the coast of France.

#4: The triangle of fog: Fog can show up at any time and just about any place on the Bay of Biscay, but it is an almost daily occurrence during late spring and all through summer, particularly in the southwest portion of the bay.  This “triangle of fog” typically forms over the deepest water in the bay and can extend inland along the northern coast of Spain (Galicia–Asturias–Cantabria—Basque Country) for several miles.On th

On the coast in Deba (Basque Country, Spain)

#5: The shelf and the shallow: The Bay of Biscay has a long history of shipwrecks, rough water, and tumultuous storms. During the winter months, areas of low pressure (unstable air masses/depressions) track into the bay via the Gulf Stream and are easily energized into fierce thunderstorms, much to the dismay of anyone caught on the open water.  At times, these thunderstorms are met with winds from the east and this clash of wind and rain can cause the water to churn “like a washing machine.” In addition, the continental shelf extends over a large portion of the bay, resulting in shallow water and rough seas that can occur during all types of weather.  Click here to see a detailed map of the continental shelf in the Bay of Biscay. 

Here’s to the Bay of Biscay! The next time you raise a glass of Muscadet, Cognac, Txakolina, Sidra de Asturias, or Bordeaux…remember to pay homage to the influence of the Bay of Biscay…whether it be storms or fog or ships that made it through.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

And the award for the smallest AVA goes to….


For decades—since 1983, when it was first established—the Cole Ranch AVA held the title as the smallest AVA in the United States. However, as of June 30, 2021, there’s a new (tiny) kid in town, and it is the Ulupalakua AVA.

The Ulupalakua AVA is unique in many ways—including its location on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Ulupalakua is Hawaii’s first and only AVA (to date), as well as the southern-most AVA of the United States (it sits in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on the 20th parallel). However, maritime influence and elevation helps to make this tiny corner of the 50th state conducive to quality viticulture. Believe it or not, grape-based wine production was first introduced to the region in the early 1800s—although pineapple wine and other fruit wines were (and remain) a specialty as well.

These days, there are 16 acres of vineyards located within the Ulupalakua AVA. Leading grape varieties include Syrah, Grenache, Malbec, Chenin Blanc, and Viognier. Varietal wines—Syrah is a specialty— blended wines, and sparkling wines are crafted (under several different brands) by the nearby Maui Winery, many of them using estate-grown grapes.

About that new “smallest AVA” title, here are the statistics of our two teeny contenders:

  • Ulupalakua AVA:
    • Total land area: 70 acres
    • (Reported) acres planted to vine: 16
    • Date established: June 30, 2021
  • Cole Ranch AVA:
    • Total land area: 150 acres
    • (Reported) acres planted to vine: 55
    • Date established: May 16, 1983

And the winner of the title smallest AVA in the United States is…the Ulupalakua AVA!

P.S. As part of my day job with the Society of Wine Educators, I’ll be updating the material in the 2023 Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) Study Guide to describe the Cole Ranch AVA as the “smallest AVA in California.”

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Five Fast Facts about Sonoma Creek

Sonoma Creek is dwarfed—in length and volume as well as fame—by the nearby Napa River. However, this small-but-mighty creek makes its mark in the southwest corner of Sonoma County in a very big way. Read on to ponder five fast facts about Sonoma Creek!

#1: From its source on the west side of the Mayacamas Mountains—Sugarloaf Ridge State Park to be exact—Sonoma Creek measures about 33 miles/54 km in total length. After running (mostly) west for about 3 miles/5 km, the creek takes a turn and flows to the south/southwest through Sonoma Valley before emptying into San Pablo Bay.

#2: There is a waterfall! Sonoma Falls is tucked into Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, near the source of the creek. The park is located a short (3-mile/5-kilometer) drive from Kenwood—just turn east off of Sonoma Highway onto Adobe Canyon Road. From the park’s visitor’s center, you can take any one of several short hikes to Sonoma Creek Falls. The falls are somewhat seasonal, but if you catch it during winter, spring, or after a storm, you are likely to be rewarded with the soothing sound of falling water. At its most lively, Sonoma Falls is multi-tiered and can cascade as much as 20 feet/6 meters.

Sonoma Falls (on a good day)

#3: Some of the best-known wine towns in the Sonoma Valley AVA are located directly on Sonoma Creek. The bucolic wine country towns of Kenwood, Glen Ellen, El Verano, and (the town of) Sonoma are located directly on the creek. Dozens of wineries are situated just a few miles from the creek (or even closer)—check out Buena Vista, Kunde Family Winery, Kenwood Vineyards, and Sangiacomo Family Wines.

#4: The Sonoma Creek Watershed is located entirely within the Sonoma Valley AVA. Surrounded by the vineyards of the Sonoma Valley AVA, Sonoma Creek is fed by waters that flow from the very mountains that define the appellation’s boundaries. The Mayacamas—located along the appellation’s eastern boundary—give rise to the headwaters of the creek itself as well as several tributaries including Bear Creek and Calabazas Creek (just north of the town of Glen Ellen). The Sonoma Mountains—forming the northern and western edge of the region—give rise to Yulupa Creek (sourced along the eastern slope of Bennet Mountain), Graham Creek, and Fowler Creek.

#5: Sonoma Creek is one of the three main bodies of water that course through (and drain) the southern portion of Sonoma County. The southern section of Sonoma County is drained by Sonoma Creek, the Petaluma River, and Tolay Creek. The 18 mile-/29 km-long Petaluma River rises in a series of small hills located between the towns of Cotati and Petaluma. After flowing directly through the town of Petaluma, it forms part of the border between Sonoma and Marin County before emptying into San Pablo Bay. Tolay Creek—located between the watershed of Sonoma Creek and the Petaluma River—rises from Tolay Lake (itself located in a narrow ridge near the southern edge of Sonoma Mountains). Somewhat seasonal, Tolay Creek flows in a southerly direction for 12.5 miles/20 km towards San Pablo Bay.  For the last 2 miles/3 km of its run—after it passes underneath Highway 37—Tolay Creek marks the western boundary of the Sonoma Valley AVA.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Wine Geo: The Allier

The Allier Department

There is a lot to love about the Allier: it’s a river…it’s a department…it’s the former Duchy of Bourbonnais!

It’s a department: The Allier is a department (political area similar to a county) situated smack-dab in the center of France, within the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Its namesake—the Allier Rive—flows through its center, while the Loire and Cher wind their way to the east and west. The main cites of the Allier Department include Moulins, Vichy, and Montluçon. Much of the Allier department is located on land that once-upon-a-time housed the Duchy of Bourbonnais, and inhabitants are sometimes referred to as Bourbonnais. In addition to over 500 castles, the Allier department is home to forests, ponds, woodlands, pastures, and vineyards. Notable products include Charroux Mustard, Charolais Beef, Tronçais Oak, and wine from the Saint-Pourçain AOC.

It’s a river (a left tributary of the Loire): The Allier River flows north for 262 miles/421 km from its source in the Massif Central to a point about 4 miles/6 km west of the city of Nevers, where it joins the Loire. The point where the Allier joins the Loire is about 26 miles/42 km south of Sancerre.

There are vineyards: The Allier River helps to define several of the wine regions of Central France, with the Saint-Pourçain AOC located right on the Allier River and completely within the Allier Department. The Côtes d’Auvergne AOC—located to the south of Saint-Pourçain in the Puy-de-Dôme Department—is also directly on the river. These two appellations are—quite literally—located very close to the geographic center of France and as such, are sometimes grouped together (with a few others) as the“appellations of Central France.”

For serious wine students only: the other appellations included in the “appellations of Central France” group include the Châteaumeillant, Côte Roannaise, and Côtes du Forez AOCs. Keep in mind that this is an informal grouping and there is no official appellation with a title referring to “Central France.”

There are forests and trees: Oak from the Tronçais Forest (Forêt de Tronçais)—located in the northwest quadrant of the Allier Department—is used to produce some of the most renowned oak barrels in the world. Interestingly, the Tronçais Forest is not part of the primeval (untouched) forest that once covered most of France but was planted in 1670 under the order of Jean Baptiste Colbert—a minister in the court of Louis XIV—to supply the French Navy. These days, the Tronçais Forest is considered one of the principal oak forests of Europe. The forest is largely planted to Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea). The ancient name for Sessile Oak was Tronce, from which the forest derives its name. Other trees in the Tronçais Forest include Scots Pine, Beech, Larch, and Common Oak (Quercus robur).

Sessile Oak trees thrive in high-density plantings, such as those found in the Tronçais Forest. In a high-density forest, the greater competition for water, sunlight, and nutrients causes the trees to grow slowly, with little space between the annual growth rings. This leads to oak (and oak barrels) with a tighter, smoother grain and a lighter transfer of oak-derived flavor to the wine.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Wine Geo: the Navarro River

Base map via USGS:

The Navarro River flows for just a short distance—about 28 miles/45 km in total—across Mendocino County. The beginning point, located in the foothills of California’s Coast Range, about one mile south of the town of Philo, is defined as the point where two creeks—Anderson Creek and Rancheria Creek—join to form the main stem of the Navarro River.

On its short journey to the Pacific Ocean, the Navarro River winds its way through the Anderson Valley, named by Walter Anderson, who settled near (what is now) the town of Boonville with his family in 1851. The Anderson Valley is a rich, cool-climate agricultural valley planted to vineyards—featuring Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Riesling—as well as over thirty bonded wineries. The Anderson Valley is also home to apple orchards, cideries, dairy farms, grazing land for sheep and goats, and breweries. California State Highway 128 cuts through the Anderson Valley—never too far from the river itself—from the town of Philo all the way to the river’s mouth at the Pacific Ocean.

Photo of Redwood Trees in the Navarro River Redwoods State Park by David Eppstein, via Wikimedia Commons

Just a few miles from its source, the Navarro River flows through Hendy Woods State Park. In this small area—tucked between vineyards, tasting rooms, and farms—you will find two small groves of old-growth coast redwoods. Named Big Hendy (covering 80 acres) and Little Hendy (covering 20 acres), and thanks to Joshua Hendy—a previous owner who stipulated that the property must always be protected from logging—these areas are known to contain some trees that are over 300 feet (91 m) tall and are estimated to be 1,000 years old.

If you continue your trek along the river, soon you will drive past the town of Navarro and leave the rolling fields of agriculture behind. At this point you will have entered the Navarro River Redwoods State Park. Here, you will be whisked into a narrow, 11-mile stretch of redwood forests known as the “Redwood Tunnel.”  Here, you can enjoy hiking, picnicking, swimming, kayaking, and canoeing (and even camping if you are so inclined).

Once you travel though the Redwood Tunnel you are just two miles from the coast. As you meet the Pacific Ocean, you have reached the end of Highway 128. At this point, if you are in the mood for a road trip, you’ve come to the right place—the end point of Highway 128 runs intersects with California Highway 1—portions of which are known as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)—and which can carry you across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and all the way to Dana Point in Orange County.

Base map via the USGS

Prior to the arrival of European Settlers, the area around the Navarro River was inhabited by the Pomo people, who occupied nineteen known village sites. The Pomo people had a estimated population of 600 in 1855. European settlement in the area began in 1851; Walter Anderson (and family) as well as his two step-brothers, Issac and Henry Beeson, were among the first wave.

Wine students will no doubt know that the Navarro River flows through the Anderson Valley AVA—famous for cool-climate Pinot Noir and world class sparkling wine. Click here for a closer look at the Anderson Valley AVA and the vineyards planted in the watershed of the Navarro River.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Five Fast Facts about the Minho River


The Minho River (known in Spain as the Miño, but widely recognized by the Portuguese name Minho) flows south/southwest across Galicia before twisting to the west and defining a portion of the border between Spain and Portugal. At 210 miles/340 km long, the Minho is the longest river in Galicia and the fourth longest on the Iberian Peninsula (following the Douro, Ebro, and Tagus).

The river helps to define several of Galicia’s wine regions as well as Portugal’s Vinho Verde DOC and is, therefore, particularly well-known to students of wine. Read on to discover five fast facts about the Minho!

#1: Pedregal de Irimia—a spot located a few miles (kilometers) east of the tiny town of Meira—is considered to the source of the Minho River. The spot—positioned within the Serra do Meira/Cantabrian Mountains—is very close to the area where the northern edge of the Galician Massif meets the eastern edge of the Cantabrian Mountains. Pedregal de Irimia sits at an elevation of about 2,400 feet/732 km above sea level. The ancient walled city of Lugo—often cited as the river’s source—is located about 45 miles/73 kilometers downriver from Pedregal de Irimia.

Map of the Minho River attributed to Norman Einstein via Wikimedia Commons

#2: About 17 miles/28 km south of the city of Lugo, the Minho River enters into—and slices through—the Ribeira Sacra DO. Here, the river Sil—once-upon-a-time a rich source of alluvial gold—flows into the Minho. The Sil flows southwest from León (Castilla y León) for about 140 miles/225 km until it joins the Minho in the Galician province of Ourense.

The Ribeira Sacra DO—whose name translates as Sacred Shore, most likely referencing the many churches and monasteries in the region—is known for reds and rosés based on the Mencía grape variety as well as white wines based on Godello. A rather long list of other varieties (including Garnacha Tinta, Albariño, Godello, Treixadura, Loureira, and Torrontés) are also allowed for use in the wines of the Ribeira Sacra DO.

#3: Just a few miles/kilometers after exiting Ribeira Sacra, the Minho flows into the Ribeiro DO. While this DO makes a small amount of Mencía-based red and rosé, white wines are the focus here and make up to 85% of the total production. The leading white grape varieties of the Ribeiro DO—used to create the crisp, fruity, and flavorful wines of the region—include Treixadura, Torrontés, Godello, Loureira, and Albariño.

#4: Passing through the eastern edge of the Ribeiro DO, the Minho River flows past the town of Cortegada and carves out the southern boundary of the Condado de Tea and O Rosal sub-regions of the Rías Baixas DO. These regions—characterized by terraced vineyards overlooking the banks of the river—are deservedly famous for their crisp, dry, fruity-and-floral white wines based on Albariño.

Wine Map of Galicia

#5: On its journey from to the Atlantic Ocean, the Minho River forms part of the border between Spain and Portugal. This part of the river’s journey begins just to the north of the town of Cevide—the northernmost spot in Portugal—and continues westward for about 50 miles/80 km to the sea. Here, the river defines the northern edge of Portugal’s Minho Vino Regional (regional/IGP) wine appellation as well as the Vinho Verde DOC. The Minho/Vinho Verde area is huge, extending as far south as the Douro River and halfway into the interior of the country. This is a lush, fertile area with a good deal of crops, fields, and agriculture of all kinds. Grapevines in the Minho are often trained up high pergolas—or even up and over trees, telephone poles, and fences. This practice makes excellent use of the available land and helps to protect the vines from the possibly harmful effects of the high humidity experienced throughout much of the region.

Vinho Verde is famous all over the world as an inexpensive, easy-drinking, widely accessible wine. While the name translates to green wine, the reference is to the wine’s flavor profile—the wine is meant to be consumed young, white it retains its crisp, fruity, and thirst-quenching style—and not its color (which can actually be red, white, or pink).

The Minho River reaches its final destination—the Atlantic Ocean—between the Spanish town of A Guarda and Portugal’s Caminha. This is the river’s widest point—it measures as much as mile/2 km across and at this stage is considered an estuary, complete with low-tide sand bars visible from either shore.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Five Fast Facts about the Cantabrian Mountains

Extending across the northern coast of Spain for over 180 miles (300 km), the Cantabrian Mountains (Cordillera Cantábrica) comprise one of the major mountain ranges of Spain. These mountains are famous for providing a wind-and-rain shadow to the lands located to their south as well as defining Green Spain—the cool-and-rainy area along the coast.

While keeping our focus on the world of wine, here are five fast facts about the Cantabrian Mountains:

#1—From the Pyrenees to the Galician Massif: The Cantabrian Mountains stretch from the western edge of the Pyrenees (Navarra), through País Vasco, through a portion of the northern edge of Castilla y León, across Cantabria and Asturias, and into Galicia. The western edge of the range is typically defined as the valley of the Minho River and the point where the Cantabrian Mountains meet the eastern edge of the Galician Massif.

Geologically speaking (in terms of orogeny [mountain formation] and composition), the Cantabrian Mountains are similar to the Pyrenees. However, they are considered a distinct range.

#2—Green Spain defined: The mountains at the western-most edge of the Cantabrian Mountains—known as the Asturian Massif—join up with a series of mountains ranges known as the Galician Massif. The mountains of the Galician Massif—along with the Cantabrian Range—form part of a rather imposing wall of mountains that borders the plateau of Spain’s Meseta Central. These mountains help to keep the interior of the country “high and dry” while the area on the seaward side of the mountains—Green Spain, although the term Cornisa Cantábrica is more likely to be heard in Spain—remains lush, rainy, and temperate.

This cool-climate area—home to many of Spain’s favorite white, fizzy, and light-red wines—includes a large portion of Galicia, Asturias, and Cantabria, as well as the northern section of País Vasco. The DOs of Rías Baixas, Ribera Sacra, and Riberio as well as the three txakolinas (Arabako Txakolina DO, Bizkaiko Txakolina DO, and Getariako Txakolina DO) could all be considered wines of Green Spain.

#3—Three sections of the Cantabrian Mountains: The Cantabrian Range has three distinct sections. The westernmost section—extending into Galicia—contains the foothills and mountains of the Asturian Massif.

The center region contains the impressive Picos de Europa. This region contains the Torre Ceredo, located on the border between Asturias and Cantabria and topping out at 8,690 feet (2,650 m) above sea level.

The easternmost portion of the mountains—stretching eastward across Navarra to the western edge of the Pyrenees—is sometimes referred to as the Basque Mountains. The mountains here are incredibly old and eroded, topping out at Aizkorri (Basque for bare stone), a limestone summit reaching 5,023 feet (1,528 m) in height.

#4—Wine Rivers: The Cantabrian Mountains are the source of several important wine-related rivers. These include the following:

  • The Ebro (flows east/southeast through the Rioja DOCa before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea)
  • The Minho (flows south then west, defining part of the border between Spain and Portugal while outlining Portugal’s Vinho Verde DOC as well as Spain’s Rías Baixas DO)
  • The Sil (flows through Bierzo and onward through the Valdeorras and Ribeiro DOs before joining the Minho)
  • The Pisuerga (flows through the Cigales DO before joining the Duero)
  • The Esla (courses through the Tierra de Léon DO before joining the Duero).

#5—Heroic viticulture in the Cantabrian Mountains: Located in the Cantabrian Mountains of Asturias, the Cangas VCIG (Vino de Calidad Indicación Geográfica) appellation has been designated as practicing Viticultura de Montaña ( mountain viticulture). Mountain viticulture (sometimes called heroic viticulture) is so-defined by an organization known as CERVIM (Centro de Investigación, Estudio, Salvaguarda, Coordinación y Valorización de la Viticultura de Montaña/Center for Research, Study, Safeguarding, Coordination and Valorisation of Mountain Viticulture).

According to CERVIM, aspects of mountain viticulture include vine cultivation at elevations above 1,640 feet/500 m, vines planted on slopes with a minimum of 30° of incline, vines planted on terraces or embankments, and topography that prohibits mechanization.

Other wine regions have been recognized by the CERVIM organization as practicing mountain viticulture include Ribeira Sacra (Galicia, Spain); Priorat/Priorato (Catalonia, Spain); Banyuls (Roussillon, France); Portugal’s Douro Valley and the Mosel in Germany.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Wine Geo: Anatomy of a (Wine) River

Rivers are a big deal to wine students. Rivers define regional and national borders; carve out valleys, gorges, and ravines; provide water for irrigation; move and mold the soil; and moderate the climate (to name just a few of their tricks).

Being a wine geo nerd, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the anatomy of a river, with a nod to a few of the many wine regions defined by their river(s).  As such, here is a quick dive into the anatomy of a river, from head (source) to tail (delta):

The Headwaters: The beginning, or source, of a river is known as its headwaters. Headwaters can be formed from a small trickle bubbling up from an underground stream, an outlet from a lake or pond, an area fed by melting mountain snow, or a place where several small streams flow together.

Upstream/Downstream: If you want to head upriver you need to point in the direction of the river’s source (headwaters). If you are heading downriver, you are paddling towards the river’s mouth (end). An area described as “upper” will be closer to the source of a river than a “lower” area. (This is often confusing, as we tend to think of upper or lower in terms of elevation.)

It is quite common for wine regions to be named in part due to their position on a river.  Some examples include Oberösterreich/Niederösterreich (Upper Austria/Lower Austria), the Lower Long Tom (proposed AVA), and the Upper Goulburn GI (Victoria, Australia).

The Riverbank: The area right next to the river is called the riverbank—or (in more scientific terms) the riparian zone. The banks of a river are typically fertile areas, frequently replenished by areal flooding. However, in the world of wine some of the prime river-adjacent areas are located on elevated plateaus above the river or on steep hillsides leading down to the river. Spain has several appellations named after riverbanks (riberas); these include the Ribera del Duero DO, the Ribera del Guadiana DO, and the Ribera del Júcar DO. 

The Tributaries: A tributary is a river the feeds into a (typically larger) river rather than reaching its end in an ocean or lake. Many of the world’s most impressive rivers gain most of their water from their tributaries. For example, France’s Loire River is fed by close to 80 smaller rivers, including the Sèvre, the Maine, the Allier, the Sarthe, the Loir, and the Cher. Tributaries are sometimes referred by as left-bank or right-bank tributaries. The terms refer to the location of the tributary as one is looking downstream (facing the mouth/end, rather than the source/beginning of the river). 

Several well-known wine regions are named for the tributaries of famous rivers. These include Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine AOC (the Sèvre and the Maine are both left-bank tributaries of the Loire) and the Saar Grosslage (named after a right-bank tributary of the Mosel).

The Delta: The end of a river—where it meets an ocean, lake, or wetland—is known as its mouth or delta. As it reaches its end, a river typically slows and spreads out into a wide area. As this occurs, the river is no longer able to carry large amount of sediment and it leaves behind deposits of rich soil.

For this reason, the deltas of the world often coincide with centers of civilization (such as Lower Egypt’s Nile Delta) and/or fertile nesting grounds for birds and other wildlife (such as the Guadalupe Delta Wildlife Management Area of southern Texas).  In the United States, the Mississippi Delta AVA (located partially on the delta of the Mississippi River in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee) is a center for enological research specializing in native North American grapes.

If a river ends at the sea, it forms an estuary—an area where saltwater mixes with fresh water—as it heads into the ocean. Spain’s famous Rías Baixas DO is named after a series of drowned river estuaries (the upper rías).

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Zonda, Diablo, Nor’wester, Chinook: The Foehn Winds of Wine

Advanced students of wine can name them: the Zonda winds of Argentina, New Zealand’s Nor’westers, California’s Diablo, and the wild Chinook winds of Oregon. These are foehn winds—warm and dry, sometimes fierce and hot—that periodically rush down the leeward side of a mountain range after the air has dropped its rain on the windward side and climbed up and over the peaks.

Other areas in the wine-producing world that are affected by foehn winds include Alsace, the Jurançon (Southwest France), Switzerland, Washington State, northwest Italy, Catalonia, Lisboa (Portugal), Cotnari (Romania), Valencia, and Málaga. To simplify the concept, think of it this way: any place that benefits from a rain shadow provided by a large mountain (or mountain range) can also be in the line of fire for the foehn.

The well-known Zonda wind of Argentina, experienced most acutely in Mendoza, La Rioja, and San Juan—where the Andes reach their highest peaks—is the perfect, illustrative example. It all begins with the cool, humid breezes off the Pacific Ocean that head towards Chile, coming in from the west. As they reach the shore, they drift inland along Chile’s numerous river valleys, allowing the fog and cool air to penetrate inland. Eventually, the air mass bumps up against the Andes and begins to drift higher and higher.

As the air lifts, it expands and cools. Clouds begin to form as the air becomes laden with water vapor. As the clouds become saturated, the moisture condenses, and it begins to rain or snow. This activity allows for the release of latent heat, and by the time the air mass reaches the peak of the mountain it is cool and dry.

Above the mountains, the wind can be bounced about by mountain air waves—changes in the air flow sometimes referred to by the frankly terrifying name the turbulent vortex—and flung downward, assisted by variations in air pressure.

As the air rolls downhill, it quickly warms up, assisted by the warmth on the ground and the sunshine on the leeward side of the mountains.  Further downslope, the increase in air pressure coaxes even more heat into the air and by the time it reaches the foot of the mountains, it is warm, dry, and ready to roll.

Foehn winds can be beneficial to vineyards; a nice, warm breeze can reduce the risk of mold- or fungi-related vine diseases, and otherwise help keep a vineyard healthy and dry. However, In the extreme, a foehn wind can shake, rattle, and roll a vine enough to cause physical damage. If the wind lasts for more than a few days (which is not unusual), the vineyard’s human inhabitants often complain of nervousness, headache, difficulty sleeping, and irritability.

Another good reason to keep your eye on the weather!

Note: Foehn winds were first studied in the European Alps, and are often referred term as föhn winds, after the original German.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…