March 22, 2011

Somewhereness, up close


    Often incorrectly used to refer to the climate of a sub-region or vineyard, microclimate refers more accurately to a single row or a few vines.

The best examples I’ve seen of true microclimates abound during late August. The next time you pass a growing cornfield, look for a small area that hasn’t kept up with the rest of the crop. You can often see an area of stunted corn near a tree or in a small indent or gully. This is a microclimate ... at most perhaps 200 - 300 square feet total. On the other hand, an area the size of a vineyard is a mesoclimate.

Many of the subtle and not so subtle differences we see between the same style of wine from different regions can be attributed to location or terroir. That’s why sauvignon blanc from New Zealand is so different from sauv blanc from Ontario  or South Africa. And even within a region, you can also find significant differences between different vineyards.

Some wineries have gone as far as to analyse their vineyards to identify both meso- and microclimates. We can compare this to the Cru system in place in Burgundy and Bordeaux. If you look at an elevation diagram of an appellation, you’ll see the simple AOC vineyards are mainly the low-lying plains. The higher quality vineyards lie further up the slope. And in a small section near the top of the slope you’ll see a tiny portion designated as Grand Cru.

So whether it’s a mesoclimate or a microclimate, it’s invariably the piece of land that gives birth to the wine. And if you are buying by location, always look for the most precise name possible. Single vineyard wines are more expensive than regional wines for some very good reasons.

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