There’s no doubt: vines like it tough.
In a hard, high altitude environment vines produce the best of themselves. The harsher the conditions grapes are grown in, the more likely the survival instinct will be triggered in the vine. And this is a good thing local birds, who gorge on the exquisite grapes, and also for wine drinkers.
Behind this is the real seduction: the grape must carry the vine’s best elements for it to renew its own survival in the harsh locale. A delicate balance is required: pips need to be ripe enough, there needs to be enough sugar and the right acids need to be there to jump start root systems.
Stressing the vine
Winegrowers call this ‘stressing the vine’. This is an absolute essential when making wine with soul.
Lucía Romero-Marcuzzi, winemaker at El Provenir, the highest vineyard in the world at an average of 2000m, in La Salta, Argentina, says grapes at el Provenir turn local animals into thirsty peregrines, organising a pillage in the vineyards. Hungry yes; gourmet for sure.
Think Bonsai! If soils are rockier, drained and nutrient stressed, then mountain and hillside vineyards benefit from it more than their counterparts on valley floors.
Creates a cleaner, healthier grape
Altitude not only amplifies vine stress but naturally brings a cleaner and healthier grape.
Cooler temperatures in high-up places help to retain grapes’ natural acidity. Greater exposure to winds helps to keep them dry, removing problems like mould and disease.
Harvest dates tend to be later at higher altitudes. This gives grapes the benefit of more time on the vine to develop structural ripeness. The result is gorgeous ripe pips, so you end up with riper tannins.
Wine takes most of its flavour from the under skin. The thicker skin is in response to higher UV light from being physically higher. Lower temperatures allow richer extraction during skin soaking and fermentation.
This all leads to a higher intensity
In short, these mountain and hillside vineyards offer three essential contrasts to their counterparts on valley floors: exceptional drainage, dramatic temperature shifts, and more direct and concentrated sunlight.
The constant battle on high elevation sites means the vine is forced to divert energy from grape production to simple survival. Grapevines grown in fertile valleys with lots of topsoil can focus just on fruit production and they struggle less.
At altitude, any surviving berry gives more character and raw power. Think of them as the James Dean of the wine world.
Try some high altitude wines
We stock a range of high altitude wines, try the Peak Vinters subscription as the place to start.