Cool Climate Viticulture
Cool climate viticulture can be described in a number of ways. Broadly it is the coolest third of the geographical range considered suitable for growing grapes, with intermediate and warm climates making up the other two thirds.
More accurately it can be defined as a region that has a growing season from April to October (October to April in Southern hemisphere) with a mean average temperature <16°C. Regions such as Champagne, Loire and Burgundy (France), Carneros and Anderson Valley in California (USA), Tazmania and Yarra Valley (Australia) are all well-known cool climate wine regions.
Ideal grapes for a cool climate
The UK is very much a cool climate grape growing region, influenced by maritime weather patterns that results in interchangeable seasonal weather. This can result in a number of viticulture challenges, however early ripening varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can flourish if planted in the right location. But vineyard success is more complex than ensuring the macro-climate data (regional climate) meets the required growing degree days.
When planting a vineyard in any climate, altitude and aspect as well as surrounding landscape features such as slopes, valleys, isolated hills and proximity to water (rivers, lakes and oceans) should all be accounted for so that appropriate varieties/rootstocks, training systems and canopy management practices can be identified and implemented during vineyard establishment.
Advantages of Cool Climate Viticulture
Cooler climate wine regions tend to experience higher volumes of seasonal rainfall. This means irrigation is rarely required and some vineyards on poorly drained soils require drainage to be installed pre-planting. However higher humidity, results in greater disease risks. In the UK powdery mildew, downy mildew and botrytis are the main diseases which can greatly affect grape yields and quality. Whether a vineyard practices organic or conventional viticulture, vineyard managers must time their vineyard practices meticulously, combining canopy management tasks with a robust, flexible spray program to best mitigate against crop loss.
Cooler temperatures during ripening (September and October) results in slower sugar accumulation and acid degradation. As vineyard managers and winemakers wait for their grapes to reach the optimum parameters, a higher level of phenolic ripeness is achieved through a longer hangtime resulting in an increased level of aromatics and flavour. Cool climate wines are typically characterised as producing still or sparkling wines that are elegant, fresh and aromatic, commanding a premium price that is a reflection of their quality and availability.