When you buy a bottle of wine there are 2 major aspects that are going to define what it tastes like:
Firstly, is winemaking.
Secondly, the wine growing.
However, the order of importance isn’t that clear cut.
Winemakers are often the stars of the wine world, they’re a bit like the chefs in the restaurant world.
This is really how you need to imagine the winemaking side of wine.
Winemaking is the turning of grapes into wine.
But first, you need grapes.
A chef can only to make the best possible dish with the product he or she gets.
The same is true of winemaking.
With food, the most important thing is, without a shadow of a doubt, the base product!
If the base product is poor, even a great chef, will not be able to make the dish taste good.
They’ll be able to hide faults with a few spices here and there… but there is no way it’s going to ever be good.
When it comes to wine that base product is grape… nothing else just the grape. That one single fruit.
And without good quality grapes, you’re NOT going to have a good wine!
So you can understand how important wine growing, or viticulture as it’s called, is.
As you can imagine there are thousands of things that affect wine growing, but what we’re going to look at are the main factors that affect the quality of the grape
1- The Grape Variety
The grape variety is the single most element!
But it so important, that we’ve decided to dedicate a whole episode to grape varieties.
You’re going to learn everything you need to know about grape varieties in our grape variety video!
Grape as you know, is a fruit.
And just like any fruit, you’re going to need certain climatic conditions.
Sun, and warmth are needed to get the fruit to ripen.
But it’s not all sun and warmth.
You see it’s a fruit we want to make into wine, and to make our grapes into good wine, we’re going to need the fruit to be crisp too.
So it’s important not to have too much heat and sun.
Water is important too, but again this has to be moderate.
Otherwise we’re going to end up with grapes gorged with water and no concentration in taste.
But if we don’t have any water you end up with grapes that are tiny with no flesh.
Think of it this way:
The hotter the weather, the riper the grape.
The riper the grape, the sweeter the grape.
And when the grapes are made into wine, the more sugar, the more alcohol. And if you don’t turn all the sugar into alcohol, you’ll have sweetness in the wine.
The hotter the weather, the more intense tasting wines.
On the other side of the scale, the cooler the weather, the less the grape is going to be ripe. The less ripe it is, the less sugar it has.
Which means the wines will be lower in alcohol and in sweetness.
These wines will in turn be less intense, more delicate in taste.
Remember that wine, to be good also needs freshness… acidity as we call it in the world of wine.
And the riper the grape the less acidity we’re going to have.
An important point here is that each grape variety has different needs. Some need a lot of heat, others very little. Some need more water than others, so climate and grape variety are also very closely linked.
As a matter of fact, the climate is pretty much the biggest influence on the choice of grape variety that is chosen to be grown.
3- Wine growing
This might sound a bit silly in this article, but just like any fruit, the way it is grown is going to impact its taste.
How the vines (the plants grapes grow on) are pruned is going to impact how much fruit is produced on each plant.
And this as a result is going to impact how much the plant can feed each grape and in turn how concentrated each grape is in taste.
When the grapes are picked, also has a vital importance. You can imagine that a few more days on the vine in late summer will give riper grapes.
But it could make them too ripe, or it could rain and suddenly your grapes are full of water.
The soil has a big influence on the grape.
Some soils retain water better than others.
Certain soils can take and absorb heat, while others will reflect it.
Some grape varieties need calcareous soils while others prefer soils that are rich in clay.
I’ve decided to add vintage as a separate point…
In case you don’t know what vintage is, let me explain.
Vintage is the year the grapes were picked in.
So for a 2012 vintage in the Northern hemisphere (so wines from Italy or the US or Spain for example) describes a wine for which the grapes were picked in the late summer or autumn of 2012.
Even though it will then take a few months or even years to make the wine, (mature it in barrels and release it from the winery), as the grapes were picked in 2012, the wine is a 2012 vintage.
It’s important to note that in the Southern Hemisphere of course, late summer or early autumn is February/ March or April, and that’s when the grapes are picked.
So now you know about vintage, you’re going to understand that every year, the weather is different.
Which means that no 2 years in a row will be the same, and no 2 years in a row will give you the same grapes.
That is why vintage is so important!
And why certain vintages produce fantastic wines while others are going to be catastrophic.
And that is why vintage is particular to each region.
A vintage can be amazing in one region, while that same year could have been particularly bad in another region, even when those 2 regions are close from one another.
Think of floods, or droughts or hail… these can be very localised.
5- Other Aspects
Now there are many, many other aspects which make this whole subject vast and extremely complex.
But with these points, you have the main influences.
Understand these, and you will be able to imagine what a wine is going to taste like, from where the wine comes from.
If I tell you for example that the wine comes from a very hot, dry place, like certain areas of Australia…
You’re going to need to imagine very rich, intense tasting wines.
Because the heat and sun is going to give ripe grapes which in turn will give us alcohol and sugar rich wines that taste intense.
On the contrary if you think of wines from the Mosel region of Germany where the weather is much cooler… You’re going to have to imagine wines that are much more delicate, light and crisp.
I hope this all makes sense?
If there is anything you need more detail on please ask?
Anything not quite make sense? Do send your questions over!
Although the focus is often very much on the winemaking and winemakers, the truth is that without good quality grapes, winemakers can’t produce a good wine.
The actual growing of the fruit is just as important and will impact greatly on the quality of the wine as well as its price.
If you understand the basics of wine growing, you’ll be able to understand what the wine should taste like.
2 thoughts on “Wine 101: why understanding wine growing is so important”
Hi Cyrus – thanks for this article. the photo of the bunch of grapes looks like mildew damage not drought and heat.
Hi Caro, You might be right, I didn’t see the healthy berries at the back, but not too sure about mildew… the leaves look OK, but yes, could be indeed. Anyways, I think it makes the point of the dehydrated grape berries. Thanks Caro for your comment, à bientôt!
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