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. This keeps 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.

Click here for a map of the Cangas VCIG wine region

References/for more information:

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

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… missjane@prodigy.net

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… missjane@prodigy.net

The Bubbly Professor Tackles Topography

Topography: the study of the surface of the earth and how it creates the underlying foundation of a landscape. Sounds like a long, boring chapter in Geography 101.

However, to students of wine and spirits, topography is destiny. Studying the paths of rivers can help us understand the wine and spirits regions through which they pass. Climate, a major determinant in what grapes grow where, can be inferred from terrain and latitude. Current events—whether they be political, cultural, or changes in wine laws—are easier to understand if you understand the physical geography of a region. Physical geography can even determine the boundaries of a region, a country, or a kingdom.

So—to put it bluntly—I have been studying a lot of topography of late. So much so that I made a list of all the landforms, waterways, and winds I have studied (as witnessed by the sloppy reams of notes that surround me and the two-foot stack of new flashcards at my feet).

The list that follows is a short-hand cheat sheet I created to try to transform this mess into some kind of taxonomy. You can download a pdf version of the list here (The Bubbly Professor Tackles Topographyr Tackles Topography) or check it out below.

  • France
    • Land: Western Alps, Massif Central, Vosges Mountains, Pyrenees, Auvergne Mountains, Jura Mountains, Morvan Massif, Mont Blanc
    • Water: Rhône River, Moselle River, Rhine River, Loire River, Cher River, Charente River, Garonne River, Dordogne River, Gironde River (Estuary), Seine River, Marne River, Hérault River, Saône River, Aube River, Atlantic Ocean, Bay of Biscay, Mediterranean Sea, English Channel
    • Wind: Gulf Stream, Mistral, Tramontane 
  • Italy
    • Land: Italian Alps, Apennines, Dolomites, Mount Etna, Mount Vesuvius, Mont Blanc
    • Water: Arno River, Po River, Tiber River, Tanaro River, Adige River, Piave River, Tagliamento River, Sesia River, Lake Garda, Lake Como, Mediterranean Sea, Gulf of Venice
    • Wind: Sirocco winds, Grecale Winds 
  • Spain:
    • Land: Pyrenees, Meseta Central, Picos de Europa, Sierra Nevada, Cantabrian Mountains, Sistema Ibérico, Montes de Toledo, Sierra de Gredos, Sierra de Guadaramma, Sistema Penibértico, Canary Islands, Balearic Islands
    • Water: Ebro River, Duero River, Tagus River, Guadiana River, Guadalquivir River, Rías Baixas, Rías Altas, Atlantic Ocean, Bay of Biscay, Gulf of Cadiz, Mediterranean Sea
    • Wind: Garbinada Winds, Cierzo Winds, Levante, Poniente
  • Portugal
    • Land: Serra da Estrela, Montes de Toledo, Sintra Mountain, Azores, Madeira Island
    • Water: Minho River, Douro River, Tagus (Tejo) River, Guadiana River, Sado River, Mondego River, Ave River, Gulf of Cadiz, Atlantic Ocean
    • Wind: Portugal Current
  • Austria
    • Land: Central Alps, Pannonian Basin, Bohemian Forest
    • Water: Danube River, Lake Neusiedl (Neuisiedlsee)
    • Wind: Alpine Föhn (Nordföhn,  Südföhn)
  • Germany
    • Land: Black Forest, German/Bavarian Alps, Ore Mountains, Haardt Hills
    • Water: Rhine River, Mosel River, Saar River, Ahr River, Saale River, Unstrut River, Main River, Neckar River, Elbe River, Lake Constance (Bodensee)
    • Wind: Alpine Föhn (Nordföhn,  Südföhn), Böhmwind (Bohemian Wind) 
  • California/North Coast
    • Land: Coastal Mountains, Mayacamas Range, Vaca Range, Klamath Mountains, Diablo Range
    • Water: Napa River, Russian River, Dry Creek, Sonoma Creek, Navarro River, Lake Berryessa, Clear Lake, Lake Sonoma, San Pablo Bay/San Francisco Bay, Pacific Ocean, Sacramento River
    • Wind: Petaluma Gap, Chalk Hill Gap, Diablo Winds (named for Mount Diablo) 
  • California/Central Coast, Central Valley and Southern California
    • Land: Gabilan Mountains, Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Lucia Range, Inner Coast Range, Diablo Range, Sierra Nevada, San Gabriel Mountains, San Bernardino Mountains
    • Water: Nacimento River, Lake Nacimento, Salinas River, Santa Ynez River, San Francisco Bay, Monterey Bay, Pacific Ocean, Sacramento River, San Joaquin River, Los Angeles River, Arroyo Seco, San Gabriel River, San Diego River, Santa Margarita River
    • Wind: Santa Ana Winds, Salinas River Valley Winds, Sacramento Delta Breezes, Templeton Gap, Sundowner, Norte Winds
  • Oregon
    • Land: Cascade Mountains, Coastal Range, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Klamath Mountains
    • Water: Willamette River, Rogue River, Applegate River, Umpqua River, Illinois River, Columbia River, Snake River, Walla Walla River
    • Wind: Van Duzer Corridor, Coastal Winds, Coho (Gorge) Winds 
  • Washington State
    • Land: Cascade Mountains, Coastal Range, Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens
    • Water: Columbia River, Walla Walla River, Yakima River, Snake River, Puget Sound, Pacific Ocean
  • New York
    • Land: Niagara Escarpment, Adirondacks, Catskill Mountains, Appalachian Mountains, Hudson Highlands
    • Water: Finger Lakes, Lake Erie, Hudson River, Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay, Atlantic Ocean
  • Canada/British Columbia
    • Land: Coast Mountains, Cascade Mountains, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Plateau, Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island
    • Water: Columbia River, Okanagan River, Fraser River, Kootenay River, Pacific Ocean
    • Wind: Chinook (dry foehn wind, the “snow-eater”), Squamish (Arctic Outflow)
  • Canada/Ontario
    • Land: Niagara Escarpment, Prince Edward Island, Midwestern Canadian Shield, Boreal Forests
    • Water: Niagara River, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Saint Lawrence River, Pacific Ocean
  • South Africa
    • Land: Cape Fold Mountains, Cape Flats, Drakensberg, Simonsberg, Great Escarpment
    • Water: Orange River, Breede River, Erste River, Oliphants River, Berg River, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Walker Bay
    • Wind: Benguela Current, Cape Doctor, Berg Wind (katabatic/descending winds)
  • New Zealand
    • Land: Southern Alps, Mount Cook, Volcanic Plateau (North Island), Mount Taranaki, Canterbury Plain, Moeraki Boulders, Marlborough Sounds, Fiordland, Piopiotahi (Milford Sound)
    • Water: Waikato River, Lake Taupo, Waitaki River, Poverty Bay, Bay of Plenty, Cook Strait, Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Tasman Sea, Pacific Ocean
    • Wind: Canterbury Northwester, Roaring 40’s, The Barber (Grey District, West Coast)
  • Australia
    • Land: Great Dividing Range, Australian Alps, Peterman Ranges, Great Victoria Desert, Nullarbor Plain, Great Sandy Desert, Darling Range, Madonel Ranges, Tasmania, Great Barrier Reef
    • Water: Murrumbidgee River, Murray River, Darling River, Lachlan River, Flinders River, Gascoyne River Goulburn River, Yarra River, Great Australian Bight, Bass Strait, Spencer Gulf, Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Tasman Sea
    • Wind: Albany Doctor, Brickfielder Wind, Freemantle Doctor, Roaring 40’s, Southerly Buster
  • Argentina
    • Land: Andes Mountains, Mount Aconcagua, Altiplano (Andean Plateau), Puna De Atacama (Atacama Plateau), Las Pampas (Argentine Plains), Tierra del Fuego, Falkland Islands
    • Water: Neuquén River, Río Negro, Chubut River, Mendoza River, Tupungato River, Jáchal River, Tunuyán River, San Juan River, Colorado River, Río de la Plata, Iguazu Falls, Atlantic Ocean
    • Wind: Zonda, Sudestada
  • Chile
    • Land: Andes Mountains, Ojos Del Salado, Coastal Range (Coastal Cordillera), Central Valley (Intermediate Depression), Atacama Desert, Los Lagos, Chilean Archipelagos/Tierra del Fuego, Chiloé Island, Isla Grande
    • Water: Rapel River, Cachapoal River, Colchagua River, Aconcagua River, Copiapó River, Huasco River, Elqui River, Choapa River, Maipo River, Straits of Magellan, Pacific Ocean
    • Wind: Humboldt Current, Viento Puelche

Please note: this list does not claim to include every landform and waterway that is important to the regions included, nor do I believe that it contains everything that is important in the context of wine and spirits studies. It does, however, represent those items that I came across while studying physical geography for wine and spirits theory classes or exams. I also included a few items that were interesting enough to (imho) be important to understanding a certain region, even if they do not have any direct impact on wine or spirits agriculture or production.

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

Five Fast Facts about the Vosges Mountains

.

Famous for framing the vineyards of Alsace, the Vosges Mountains are a range of low mountains located in eastern France. The Vosges run parallel to the Rhine River for about 70 miles along a swath loosely defined as the area between the German border (to the north) and town of Belfort (to the south/southwest). The Vosges are defined as being wholly in France; the rolling hills and uplands that continue north of the German border are referred to as the Haardt Hills (Hardt Mountains/part of the Palatinate Forest).

Here are five wine-centric fast facts about the Vosges:

#1: Plateaus to the west, plains to the east—On its eastern edge (particularly in the south), the mountains of the Vosges form steep slopes over the Rhine Valley. Beyond the slopes—between the mountains and the Rhine River—lies an area of flood-prone meadows that are referred to as the Plaine d’Alsace (Alsatian Plains) or the Grand Ried. Across the Rhine (in Germany), the Black Forest—which is both a forest and a mountain range, despite the name—marks the eastern edge of the Rhine Valley.

On the western edge of the mountain range, the forested slopes of the Vosges descend more gently into the Lorraine Plateau.

Grand Ballon

#2: The highest mountains are ballons—No, not balloons filled with helium and red ribbons, but ballons. The French word ballon means a “round-topped mountain” implying a mountain with a dome-shaped—rather than a jagged—summit. The highest mountain in the Vosges—located in the Haut-Rhin about 16 miles/25 km northwest of Mulhouse—is Grand Ballon. Grand Ballon rises to 4,671 feet/1,423 m above sea level, and is sometimes referred to as Ballon de Guebwiller, due to its location (just 5 miles/8 km west of the town of the same name).

#3 Haute, Central, and Lower—The Vosges are considered low mountains—the peaks here do not rise nearly as high at those found in the Alps (hello Mount Blanc, at 15,774 feet/4,808 m) or the Pyrenees (topping out on Mount Aneto at 11,168 feet/3,404 m).

The highest section of the Vosges—known as the Hautes Vosges—is in the southernmost portion of the mountain range (roughly defined as the region to the south of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges). Here we find the highest mountains, including Grand Ballon and 15 others higher than 4,000 feet/1,200 m. This portion of the Vosges is based on gneiss and granite bedrock.

The Village of Riquewihr

The section in the center—known as the Middle Vosges—has summits as high as 3,300 feet/1,000; but north of the Col de Saverne (Saverne Pass), the highest peaks top out at 2,000 feet/610 m. Further north, closer to the German border is a section referred to as the Lower Vosges. Here, the mountains level off into a plateau of reddish-pink sandstone (known as grès des Vosges) with elevations averaging between 1,000 feet/300 m and 1,850 feet/560 m above sea level.

#4: A most effective rain shadow— The Vosges Mountains (particularly in the south, where the mountains are at their highest) provide a very efficient rain shadow for the vineyards of Alsace. At approximately 500 mm (less than 20 inches) of rain per year on average, the town of Mulhouse is one of the driest spots in France. The rain shadow helps to create a long, dry, sunny growing season for the vineyards of Alsace, helping the grapes to achieve high sugar levels, maintain their acidity, and consistently reach a high degree of phenolic ripeness.

Alsace does get some snow in the winter; skiing and other winter sports are popular—and half-timber houses look beautiful in the snow. Alsace is land-locked and thus experiences some aspects of a continental climate; however, the northerly latitude keeps it from getting too hot. As such, all four seasons can be experienced—and enjoyed—in Alsace.

Map of the Vosges Mountains by Boldair via Wikimedia Commons

#5: The source of some viticulturally significant rivers—The Moselle River (Germany’s Mosel) has its source in the Hautes Vosges on the western slopes of the Ballon d’Alsace (by my count, the 17th highest mountain in the Vosges, at 3,842 feet/1,171 meters high). The Moselle flows through the Lorraine Region west of the Vosges, exits France and forms the short border between Germany and Luxembourg before entering Germany and joining the Rhine. The Saar, a tributary of the Moselle, has its source at Mount Donan (in the Central Vosges). The Saar flows through Lorraine and into the Palatinate (Pflaz) region of Germany before joining the Mosel near the town of Konz. The Saône (that I like to call Burgundy’s River) has its source about 40 miles/130 km west of Grand Ballon on the western edge of the Vosges.

And finally—many of the finest vineyards of Alsace are planted on the sun-grabbing east- and southeast-facing slopes of the Vosges at elevations up to around 1,300 feet/400 meters. The majority (34 out of 51) of the area’s Grand Cru sites are situated in the Bas-Rhin tucked into (and to the east of) the Hautes Vosges.

References/for more information:

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

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.

.

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

.

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.

.

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.

.

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