“I planted a vineyard in Norway.”
To date, the winery’s vines have produced several vintages of Riesling. Wines from Norway, as well as Japan, Bolivia and the ever-expanding fields of British Columbia, Canada, indicate a period of transition. With climate change, the number of wine-producing regions is also changing. These four regions represent the new frontiers of viticulture and in many ways prove that the future is already here.
Photo courtesy of the Norwegian Wine Association
On a south-facing granite plot overlooking the North Sea, Keller and his Norwegian former student Anna Enggrave planted Riesling on their family’s land.
“Heisenheim University predicted that we will have our first harvest around 2050,” says Keller.
“So we were both pleased and shocked when the grapes reached full maturity in 2015 and 2018.”
When Keller and Enggrave planted the vineyard in 2008, the residents had been growing grapes for 20 years, primarily as a hobby. With global warming and the rising price of homemade wine, commercial efforts multiplied.
Although no region has yet achieved EU member state status, two regions have emerged as competitors. Eastland, located in southeastern Norway, includes Oslo and is home to about half of the country’s population. Vestlandet, located on the fjords of the west coast, is home to the picturesque city of Bergen.
The sum of the unique characteristics of this place is what makes winemaking possible, says Danilo Costamagna. Originally from Piedmont, Italy, he moved to Norway, where he founded the winery NorskVin and now heads the Norwegian Horticultural Association Norske Druedyrkere Foreningen.
“The fjords reflect the sunlight on the vines,” he says. “The mountains store heat and provide good drainage, because it rains a lot in Norway.”
Norway’s short growing season brings the risk of late frosts in the spring and heavy rain in the fall. But the long summer days resulting from the country’s northern latitude help the grapes ripen.
“With some vineyards we have the problem of too much growth,” says Costamagna.
Growers find a balance by delaying ripening by not missing the harvest periods. This does not mean that the grapes always reach an ideal Brix level. Chapalization, the addition of sugar to increase alcohol content, has proven to be an effective tool over the years.
While Keller’s Riesling project has some potential, the grape currently showing its maturity and consistency is the Solaris, which few Americans know.
With an alcohol content of 12.5% vol. (abv) and natural sugar, this dry white wine is light to medium-bodied. Offers the acidity of Riesling and aromas of lemon, green apple, watermelon and grapefruit.
Why Solaris? It matures early and is resistant to fungal diseases and frost, two properties that benefit the humid and cold conditions in Norway.
Among red wines, the Rondo hybrid is of interest to some winemakers. This hardy thick-skinned grape, grown in what was then Czechoslovakia, is a cross between Saint Laurent and Zari Severa. It also grows in the Rheinhessen region of Germany, and in Denmark, England, Ireland and Sweden.
In difficult climatic conditions, Rondo struggles against the accumulation of sugar, which is why it is made into sparkling wine more often than before.
Despite the climate, it makes sense for the vineyards of the future to plant traditional Vitis vinifera grapes.
“The 2018 vintage in Norway is reminiscent in taste of Germany in the 1960s,” says Keller. “Very pure, very pronounced acidity, very earthy, with lots of energy. A pleasure to drink”.
Photo courtesy of Vendimia
Bolivian viticulture dates back to the 16th century, when Spanish colonizers planted the Negru Criolla and Moscatel of Alexandria. They took advantage of the abundance of money extracted in the nearby city of Potosí to finance the production of wine and Singani, an alcohol distilled from muscatel grapes.
Recently, however, we have witnessed political unrest, poverty and class differences, which have made it difficult for the industry to develop. That may soon change.
“Bolivian wine is doing better than ever … Perhaps this is related to the growth of wine culture and wine consumers,” says Bertil Levin Tøttenborg, sommelier at the Gustu restaurant in La Paz.
Founded in 2012 by Klaus Meyer, co-founder of Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, Gustu creates contemporary dishes using local ingredients. They are paired with local wines, which Tottenborg has tasted the most, if not the least.
“A thousand people in Bolivia would be lifted out of poverty if we sold less than 3% of what Robert Mondavi sells in a year.” -Ramon Escobar.
A proponent of minimal intervention, he points the finger at small regions such as the Valle de Cinti, where producers are “doing what they do best: unfiltered and purposeful natural wines of high quality,” he says.
He praises Tierra Roja, Vacaflores, Sepa de Oro and La Casona de Molina for pushing the boundaries, and Marquesa de la Viña for its traditional methods and natural bling.
Cees van Casteren, MW, has called the wine industry in the Cinti Valley an “archaeology of viticulture” because of the native vineyards. In some, the vines are as tall as trees, while in others they form a palisade using a method called “tree cultivation.”
To taste the distinctive flavor of these historically dying vines, you must first reach the Chinti Valley. Although only 80 km west of the town of Tarija, the mountain roads require three hours of careful driving.
Nayan Gowda of Vinosity Consulting explains that organic farming practices here often depend on cost and the difficulty of finding materials.
Gouda arrived in 2019 to make the wine for the young label Jardin Oculto. The label was founded by Maria José Granier, of the prestigious Campos de Solana winemaking family. Among several projects, they vinified some of the local Vischoquena grapes, which are grown on pink pepper trees.
Near Cinti is Taria’s largest wine region, which has established producers with a large distribution.
Campos de Solana and Bodegas Colberg produce ambitious and modern wines from vineyards up to 6,200 feet above sea level, mainly Tannat, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Merlot.
These skyscrapers protect against global warming, but there are other problems.
Salty soils, unstable weather and violent storms threaten devastation.
The global pandemic is also hampering growth.
Chufly Imports founder Ramon Escobar has seen domestic sales drop 85% in the first months of 2020, exacerbated by social and political instability.
“Our vineyards are more dependent than ever on the U.S. market to survive,” he says. Chufly represents brands such as the award-winning Aranjuez, the historic Bodegas y Viñedos La Concepción and the boutique brand Magnus, all in Tarija; Cepa de Oro de Cinti; and 1750 de Samaypata, a valley with a cool climate and a four-hundred-year history of winemaking.
“Few people realize that drinking wine from a particular region has the potential for sustainable economic development,” Escobar says.
“For example, 1,000 people in Bolivia would be lifted out of poverty if we sold less than 3 percent of what Robert Mondavi sells in a year. And choosing the good doesn’t mean sacrificing quality.
Photo courtesy of British Columbia Wines
Canadian wines often escape U.S. shelves, but those with bottles from famous barrels put them in their suitcases before leaving Ontario or the Okanagan. Treasure hunters can now add another region to the list: the Kootenays.
This mountainous, cliff-top Geographic Index (GI) in southeastern British Columbia is surrounded by amazing wildlife and named for the Kootenay River and the Kootenay First Nations people.
The vineyard lies between two rugged mountain ranges, Selkirk to the west and Purcell to the east, on 10,000-year-old granite and glacial debris ranging from fine dust to large boulders.
“You can see the ground shimmering in the sunlight,” he says ….
Bob Johnson, owner of the Bailey-Groman vineyard in the Creston Valley. The stones retain heat, which offsets the cooler temperatures in the area and promotes ripening.
Although the region did not receive GI status until 2017, the first commercial winery opened in 2001 in this remote valley.
There are now six wine cellars.
“We had family nearby and we visited them often,” Johnson says.
“Initially we bought a cherry orchard, but when we saw a plot for sale in 2006 that was perfectly suited to grape growing, we couldn’t resist and made an offer the very next day.”
Johnson sold the first parcel to develop the second, an abandoned apple orchard on 28 acres of vineyards.
“Our first year was 2009, and we haven’t looked back,” he says.
Warm summers with long sunny days promote grape ripening.
Low precipitation reduces the pressure of pain. Cold winters put vines in a resting state, but temperatures are not cold enough to kill them. In addition, insulation helps reduce the threat of phylloxera.
Mr. Johnson grows grapes on his own roots to produce wines with “clean, rich flavors,” he says. The intensity of the sunlight, which results from growing grapes at 2,000 feet above sea level at 49 degrees latitude, “combines to create wines with a new flavor print,” he says.
Many varieties of cold climates thrive here. Pinot Noir is the most widely planted grape variety, followed by Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling, all of which are adapted to winemaking in Burgundy and Alsace and preferred by producers. These wines have already won awards in Canadian competitions.
Until now, most viticulture has taken place in the warm valley floor. Although the GA covers a mountain range of more than 4.9 million hectares, only a small part of it is suitable for viticulture: only 94 hectares are planted.
However, climate change could improve the prospects for this small region.
As Ayana Misawa walks through the vineyard, she installs wax paper umbrellas to protect the pink grapes of the Koshu wine from the rain. This attention to detail, she says, is a strength of Japanese viticulture.
“The vines are well cared for and the cellars are kept clean,” she says.
Misawa is head winemaker of Grace Winery, the family winery in mountainous Yamanashi Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo on the island of Honshu.
Wine has been made in Japan for 150 years and the Misawa family founded Grace in 1923.
The country’s largest wine region, Yamanashi, is home to nearly a third of Japan’s vineyards.
Most focus on local varieties such as Koshu and Muscat Bailey A, but international grape varieties have increased, as have domestic wine sales.
Misawa believes the devastating 2011 earthquake in Japan’s far east helped change people’s attitudes.
“More than ever, Japanese consumers want to support Japanese products,” she says.
Japanese journalist Yoko Obara calls it the Japanese wine boom. The proliferation and prominence of wineries has helped cultivate a new breed of buyers “who are eager to follow these stories; buy some winemakers and their wines,” she says.
Misawa describes Koshu with the love of an artist.
“It’s pure and very delicate, with yuzu, ice peach, white pear and jasmine,” she says, “I think Koshu reveals a delicacy characteristic of Japan.
But climate change may be changing the island nation’s wine landscape.
“In my grandfather’s time, very few wineries grew grapes because it was difficult to reach full maturity,” Misawa says. “The Yamanashi region sees … Syrah and Tempranillo,” she says, despite the local tradition of producing white wine. Still, Koshu remains the most important variety, accounting for 20 percent of Japan’s total production.
Nagano, the second largest region, also has mountainous terrain and high-altitude vineyards to prevent temperatures from rising. But the frequency of typhoons and rainfall has increased, says Toru Konishi of Villad’est Winery.
The country’s largest wine region, Yamanashi, is home to nearly a third of Japan’s vineyards. Most of them specialize in local varieties such as Koshu and Muscat Bailey’s A.
Like Grace, Willad’es also guards the Pinot Noir bunches from the heavy rains.
Although the harsh climate frustrates some, Konishi says it forces winemakers to abandon their ambitions for rich and varied styles in favor of subtle and delicate expressions that complement Japanese cuisine.
Other varieties found in Nagano include Merlot and Rugan, a grape native to Asia and used for quality dry wines.
On the cold northern island of Hokkaido, famous for its ski resorts and hot springs, intrepid vintners have planted German grapes and other cool-climate varieties. Snow and icy winters force vintners to dig into their vineyards for protection.
Despite the difficult conditions, a number of cellars opened their doors.
Burgundian winemaker Etienne de Montille landed in southern Hokkaido to experiment with pinot noir and chardonnay.
In the long run, the island could become the most climate-resilient wine region in the country.
Although Japanese wine is diverse and evolving, Obara believes that “rapid quality improvement” will take it to a world-class level.
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