Cool climate wine is a category of wine that is harvested in the relatively cool climates of the Mediterranean, near the source, with one exception: the California wine industry. This wine is typically made from grapes grown in northern Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Australia. Because grapes are typically harvested in the cool, temperate climates, they require special storage to keep them from spoiling, which is why they are typically allowed to age for a long time before they are packaged and sent to stores. The characteristics of cool climate wine are light in colour, medium bodied, and usually soft and fruity. These wines are often made from the grapes that are grown in the cooler, temperate climates that the wines originated from.

The southern Italian wines of Piedmont are often called “Cool Climate” wines due to their cool, humid summers and mild winters. They’re a good example of the general rule that cooler climates produce better wines than warmer climates, and in Piedmont this is definitely true. Piedmont produces a wide variety of excellent wines, both white and red. White wines include the aromatic Moscato d’Asti, a sparkling wine made with the local Asti wine grape, and the drier Amarone which is made from Piedmont’s dark red Nebbiolo grape. The reds from Piedmont include the classic Barolo, the deep, dark and spicy Barbera, the light, aromatic and fruity Bonard

Now that we’re starting to see some of the first spring wine harvest in California, the final question many consumers have is whether their wine is from a “cool climate” or a “warm climate” wine region. There are only three grape varietals that are given this classification: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.. Read more about what is cool climate and let us know what you think.

Ask the expert! You’ve probably heard these terms before, so today we’re going to look at the differences between cold-climate wines and warm-climate wines.

To answer today’s question, we invited winemaker Greg Martellotto, who has a unique experience running Martellotto Winery and importing One Vine Wines. (You may recall his excellent wines from previous internal affairs). Thanks, Greg!

What is the difference between wines from cold and hot climates?

Greg MartellottoYou may have heard sommeliers rave about cold-climate wines, but not so much about warm-climate wines. But what is a cool-climate wine and what is a warm-climate wine? How can you know what’s what if it’s not on the label?

Wine is a matter of geography and terroir, i.e. the place and environment where the grapes grow. The location, the soil, the climate, the weather conditions and the microclimate guarantee a certain result. Sunlight, water and soil are the most important elements, while climate and weather play a supporting role.

Chilled air-conditioned wines

Let’s start with wines from cooler climates, with the Sta. Rita Hills AVA in Santa Barbara wine country for the illustration. This AVA was founded in 1970 when two friends started Sanford & Benedict Winery.

People thought that those who grew grapes in such a cool area were crazy, because they thought the grapes would not be ripe enough to make good wine.

In 2021, Sta. Rita Hills is widely known for its intense and complex wines produced by winemakers and vineyard owners who value quality.

Geography and land

Sta. The Rita Hills AVA is unique among California’s many wine regions. It is located in a 10 mile long valley, surrounded on both sides by mountains. But this valley runs west to east from the Pacific Ocean, not north to south like most wine regions.

This west-east orientation directs cool air and fog from the ocean through the valley, creating a microclimate in the larger, warmer Santa Ynez AVA. The grapes are kept cool in the summer heat, so they ripen slowly and gain depth and complexity.

Old marine sediments, including diatomaceous earth (fossilized shells), form the bottom. These soils are bad for crops, but magical for vines because they drain water well and limit excessive vine growth.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive in these conditions. Wines from grapes from this region are considered world class.


Wine lovers and connoisseurs alike know that the Sta. Rita Hills as the best region with a cool climate for the production of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which can compete with the best in the world.

The grapes grown here develop an ideal level of natural acidity and a good tannic structure. The resulting wines are balanced and go well with a variety of dishes.

The cool weather helps the grapes retain their acidity. In grapes, sugar and acid are opposite each other. As the temperature rises, the sugar content of the grapes increases and the acidity decreases. The trick is to find the right balance. Colder conditions in Sta. With Rita Hills, it’s easy to find a balance.

You’ll find different styles of Pinot Noir, but they usually have floral aromas, flavors of red fruit, firm tannins and a silky smooth taste. Chardonnay tends to be full-bodied, but the acidity gives it energy. Flat or bland wines will not be found here.

Wines from warm climates

To illustrate wines with warm climates, let’s look at California’s smallest AVA, Happy Canyon in Santa Barbara, established in 2009.

Geography and land

Happy Canyon is located on the east side of Santa Barbara County where two mountain ranges intersect: from east to west, Sta. Rita Hills and the eastern ridge running north and south.

Crossing these mountain ranges gives rise to warm days and cool nights. There is intense heat in the valley during the day, but cool air currents from the Pacific Ocean penetrate at night, giving the vineyards a respite from the heat.

The temperature in Happy Canyon is the highest in the county. Thanks to the abundant heat and sunshine, the Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot thrive here. Because the vineyards are on high ground, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc grow well despite the heat.

The poor soils of sand, clay and silt, strewn with small stones, give minerality and reduce yields.

The sudden daily changes in temperature and soil composition result in very concentrated wines. The alternation of warm days and cool nights allows the complex aromatic compounds to develop slowly.


Wine lovers and connoisseurs alike know that Happy Canyon is the best warm climate area for growing Bordeaux grapes that can rival the best of California. You will find wines made from individual grapes of each Bordeaux variety, as well as Bordeaux blends.

The wines of Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon rival those of Napa Valley in terms of complexity and richness, but they are still relatively unknown. Therefore, these wines are priced lower than their Northern California counterparts.

While Napa wines are lush and fruity, Happy Canyon wines, while ripe and full-bodied, have an elegant character with a slight earthiness. The local landscape gives the wine spicy notes in the style of Provence. Happy Canyon grapes retain the natural acidity and structure necessary for long storage.

Syrah, grapes for cold and warm climates

Syrah has found its place in the Santa Barbara wine region.

When Bob Lindquist planted the first Syrah varieties in the cool climate of the Bien Nacido vineyard in Santa Maria in 1997, people thought the wine would not ripen. Syrah, which grows in cooler climates, is now widely available as a friendly wine, with delicious cranberry and bright raspberry flavors.

Some winemakers plant Syrah on the Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley for a cool climate style. These wines are often characterized by a subtle, sweet style, with great acidity and a good mouthfeel.

Other winemakers have planted Syrah in the Santa Ynez Valley and at Happy Canyon in Santa Barbara to create a style with a warm climate. These wines are often characterized by bacon fat, lush blackberry and black pepper spice.

Each style appeals to different people at different times, especially when paired with food. This is part of the joy and adventure of wine.

To learn more about the differences between these styles and the microclimates of these regions, plan a trip to Santa Barbara wine country!

Thanks again to winemaker Greg Martellotto of Martellotto Winery for his answer to the question: What is the difference between a wine from a cold climate and a wine from a warm climate?

Are you looking for answers to your burning questions? You can read the entire Ask the Expert series here!To understand the differences between cool climate and warm climate wine, it’s first important to understand the climate and grapes grown in each of the regions.. Read more about cool climate definition and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a cool climate wine?

Cool climate wines are made in winemaking regions that are far from the equator, sometimes up to 2,000 miles from the equator. These regions tend to be cooler than other places in the world, such as the tropics. They are usually in areas at both ends of the world that are at the same time both north and south of the equator. A cool climate wine is a wine that is grown in a climate that is considered cool by the wine experts of the world. Cool climate wines are made in places such as Oregon, Washington, California, and Australia. Cool climate grapes come from warmer greenhouses at higher altitudes.

Which climate is best for wine?

The climate of a region impacts the quality and taste of a wine. Adapting your lifestyle to a new climate can help improve the quality of wine, and the taste of wine. As you may already know, climate changes have been taking place on Earth for millennia, and the impact of climate change on the world’s wine industry is an important and timely matter. It’s a common misconception that you need to live in a cool climate to produce some of the world’s best wines, and this is due to many factors, including the many microclimates that exist across the globe. In fact, many of the world’s most prestigious wine regions are located in warm climates. The best example of this is the Rhone Valley in southern France, where the grapes thrive alongside the Mediterranean Sea. Several regions around the world have some of the same climates referred to as ‘cool climate’ or ‘warm climate’, such as the Pacific Northwest in the United States and Canada.

What is considered a cool climate?

Cool climate wines are those that are produced in the Northern Hemisphere. The term itself comes from the fact that wine is cooled by the cold night air before it is bottled and allowed to mature. The cool climate wines are grown in the north, from the US through to Scandinavia, and from Germany and France down to Italy. There are some wines that are always considered cool climate (or cool climate) and there are some that are always considered warm climate (or warm climate). These terms describe the specific conditions under which the wine was made. Many wines are produced in both warm climate and cool climate regions. In general, the cooler climates are known for producing wines that are usually lighter in sugar, less fruity, and drier.

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