A New AVA in Mendocino County!

Map of the proposed (now approved) Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA, from the TTB's original docket (see link below)

Map of the proposed (now approved) Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA, from the TTB’s original docket (see link below)

Not even one day old….today – October 9, 2014 – the Federal Register published a new rule establishing the 21,000 acre Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA.

This new AVA, which will become “official” one month from today, is located entirely within the North Coast AVA – it is not, however, located within the Mendocino AVA, nor is it a subregion of the Mendocino AVA.

The Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA is located adjacent to, and to the west of the eastern “wing” of the Mendocino AVA. As a matter of fact, the Mendocino AVA and one of its subregions, the Redwood Valley AVA, both had their boundaries moved. Each had its acreage reduced by about 1,500 acres. This was to eliminate any overlaps, and because the TTB was convinced that the area in question has more in common, terroir-wise (and especially climate-wise) with the newly-approved area than it has with its former parents.

Here are a few more things you might want to know about the Eagle Peak Mendocino County AVA:

  • The name of the AVA was approved as “Eagle Peak Mendocino County” as opposed to just “Eagle Peak” for good reason: while a 2,700-foot high mountain known as “Eagle Peak” is indeed a major feature of the region, there just so happen to be 47 other mountains in the US that are named “Eagle Peak.”
  • mendocino-fogAnother reason the long version of the name was required for approval is that there was some concern that an AVA named “Eagle Peak” might confuse consumers, and/or might infringe upon the “Eagle Peak Merlot” brand produced by Fetzer Vineyards.
  • The new AVA is located 125 miles north of San Francisco. The nearest city in this mountainous region is Ukiah; the AVA is situated about 10 miles north and slightly to the west of Ukiah.
  • There are currently at least five commercial vineyards operating in the area, with a total of just over 115 acres of vines.
  • The region’s many streams feed into the headwaters of the Russian River, which flows through Mendocino and Sonoma Counties on its journey to the Pacific Ocean.
  • Soils are shallow and composed of mainly sandstone and shale.
  • The typical climate conditions of the area include: marine fog and breezes, cool temperatures in the spring, warm-to-hot summers and gusty winds.

For more information, including all of the details on the Federal docket, click here.

For a shortcut to the map submitted with the application, click here.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator

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The W.O. Shuffle: 2014

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, with Table Mountain in the Background

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, with Table Mountain in the Background

As every good wine student knows, the world of wine is constantly changing – and that includes a never-ending shuffle of AOCs, DOCGs, AVAs and W.O.s.

W.O. – as you advanced students know, stands for “Wine of Origin” and is the system of geographically defined wine regions used in South Africa.

The system was first used in 1973 and mirrors the “New World” style of geographical indications in that it defines the boundaries of the geographic origins and requires truth in labeling; however, grape varieties, wine making techniques, or wine styles are not mandated per geographic area.

The basic standards are:

  • Geographic Area:  If a wine uses a geographic area, estate, or vineyard as its place of origin, 100% of the wine must come from that area.
  • Vintage:  If a wine states a particular vintage, 85% of the wine must be front the stated vintage.
  • Variety:  Varietal wines must contain 85% the stated variety.

About those WO changes.  They seemed pretty complicated upon my first reading, so I’ve tried to simplify them. To keep things in context, remember that the defined wine areas of South Africa are known as Geographical Units (largest), Regions, Districts, and Wards (the smallest).  Here goes:

  • A glass of Simonsig Sparkling Wine perched atop Table Mountain

    A glass of Simonsig Sparkling Wine perched atop Table Mountain

    Cape Point Out:  Cape Point is not longer considered a district of the Coastal Region geographical unit.

  • Cape Peninsula In:  Cape Peninsula is a newly created district located within the Coastal Region.  Constantia and Hout Bay, the former wards of the former Cape Point District, are now considered wards of the Cape Peninsula District.
  • Aan de Dorns Out:  Aan de Dorns is no longer considered a ward of the Worcester District. Thus, the remaining three wards of Worcester are Hex River Valley, Nuy, and Scherpenheuvel.
  • Standford Hills In:  Stanford Hills is a new ward, located within the Walker Bay District.
  • Ceres In:  Ceres, located in the Western Cape Geographical Unit, is now a ward of the recently defined Ceres Plateau District (which is not located within a designated region.)

For all of the latest updates in the world of wine, visit our “CSW Update Page.”

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

A New AVA for Santa Barbara

14956727_lThere’s a new AVA in Santa Barbara County! Officially approved on October 1, 2013, the new Ballard Canyon AVA is located within the existing Santa Ynez AVA.  With this new addition, there are now a total of five AVAs located within Santa Barbara County:  Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria Valley, and the newest member, Ballard Canyon.

Santa Barbara County, located a 90-minute drive north of Los Angeles, sits on the Southern California coast between San Luis Obispo County to the north and Ventura County to the south. The area is geologically unique in that it is one of the few places on the California Coast where both the coastline and the mountain ranges – including the Santa Ynez Mountain Range (located near the coast) and the San Rafael Mountain Range (further inland) run east-west as opposed to north-south.

The transverse nature of the region creates an east-west flow of ocean breezes off of the Pacific Ocean, as well as a diversity of soils from diatomaceous earth near the shore and chert and limestone further inland.  With such diverse terroir, it makes sense for the region to host five AVAs.

santa barbara vineyardsSanta Maria Valley – The Santa Maria Valley, 35 miles north of Santa Ynez, is the northernmost of Santa Barbara’s five AVAs, and was the first area to be officially recognized as an AVA.  The often foggy and windswept region has complex soil conditions and is known for cool weather grapes including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The oldest commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County, the Nielson Vineyard, was planted in 1964 in Santa Maria Valley.

Santa Ynez Valley – The region’s largest AVA, Santa Ynez Valley, is a long, east-west corridor with a diversity of climates; the cool temperatures near the coast become progressively warmer inland. Many types of grapes and wine are produced in this region, from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and botrytis-affected wines in the west to Bordeaux and Rhône varieties in the west.

Sta. Rita Hills – The Sta. Rita Hills AVA sits mostly within the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA, on its western border, and therefore much cooler than the inland areas. Located just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, the area generally sits under marine layer clouds and fogs in the morning.  By 10 am, the fogs burns off and gives way to a few hours of calm sunshine.  In the afternoon, the on-shore breezes pick up, giving this region an overall maritime climate well-suited to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Located between the towns of Buellton and Lompoc, the area is intersected by the Santa Ynez River.

Ballard-Canyon-IdentityBallard Canyon – Located in the center of Santa Ynez Valley, with Sta. Rita Hills to the west and Happy Canyon to the east, the area’s newest AVA enjoys the hot, sunny days of its relatively inland position, and the cool nights brought in by post-sunset ocean breezes.  At 7,800 acres (560 of which are planted), Ballard Canyon is by far the smallest AVA in Santa Barbara County.  (By comparison, Sta. Rita Hills is 64,000 acres.) Ballard Canyon is planted heavily towards the Rhône varieties of Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, and Viognier, as well as Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, and other international varieties.

Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara – First recognized as an AVA in 2009, Happy Canyon is located to the east of the Santa Ynez Valley, making this one of the warmest areas in Santa Barbara County.  Summertime temperatures often reach the low to mid-nineties.  The region specializes in Bordeaux and Rhône varietals.  Local lore suggests that the name of the region comes from the time of Prohibition when bootleg alcohol was produced in the region, prompting folks to “take a trip to Happy Canyon.”

Some beautiful maps of the AVAs of Santa Barbara can be found on the website of the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association: http://sbcountywines.com/vineyards/map.html.

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

Conference Highlights: Wines of Brazil

Nora Favelukes says that if you like soccer, carnival, and samba, it’s time to discover the wines of Brazil!  Brazilian wines are now exported to over 30 countries and are about to make a splash on the American market.

Nora Room Brazil

Brazil is the largest country in Latin America and considered the fifth largest wine producer in the Southern Hemisphere.  Brazil has been making wine since the beginning of its colonization, and began wine production in earnest with the arrival of Italian immigrants, starting in 1875.  Over the past fifteen years, the Brazilian wine industry has made a tremendous investment in technological innovation and vineyard management.

Glasses Brazil

Currently, the Brazilian wine regions total 83,700 hectares, divided into six regions:

  • Serra Gaúcha
  • Campanha (located along the border with Uruguay)
  • Serra do Sudeste
  • Campos de Cima da Serra
  • no Rio Grande do Sul Planalto Catarinense
  • Vale do São Francisco (located in the northeast, contains the closest vineyards to the equator)

The wines sampled included Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sparkling Wines, Blends, and Moscato.

Crowd Brazil

The (Confusion of the) Torrontés Family Tree

Chenin Blanc GrapesTorrontés, a vinifera cross native to Argentina, is known for producing crisp, fruity, and floral wines redolent of peach, apricot, mandarin orange, honey, melon, and rose.  While Chile, Spain, and a few other countries grow grapes that go by the same name, Torrontés – actually several closely-related varieties –  is grown primarily in Argentina. Along with Malbec, it is considered one of the two “signature varieties” of the country.

A wine labeled “Torrontés” from Argentina may actually be made from three separate but related varieites.  Torrontés Riojano is the most widely grown, the most aromatic, and is considered to produce the highest quality wines.  Torrontés Mendocino, the least aromatic, is also the least widely grown; and Torrontés Sanjuanino takes the middle ground.

All three varieties of Argentine Torrontés are thought to be natural vinifera crossings involving Muscat of Alexandria that occurred on Argentine soil. As for the parentage of each, it gets a little tricky:  The leader of the pack, Torrontés Riojano, is known to be a crossing for Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica, otherwise known as the Mission grape. Torrontés Sanjuanino is a separate crossing of those two same grapes. Torrontés Mendocino is a mystery, thought to be a crossing of Muscat de Alexandria and an unknown variety.

Casa Rosada ArgentinaOf the versions of the grape grown in Argentina, Torrontés Riojano is by far the most widely grown and renowned. As the name suggests, it thrives in the La Rioja region, and is also widely planted in Mendoza and the Salta region of northern Argentina.  It seems to do particularly well in the arid, ultra-high altitude vineyards of Salta where the conditions allow the grape to retain a crisp acidity and develop the intense floral aromas the grape is known for.  Torrontés Sanjuanino is planted mainly in the San Juan province, but even there plays second fiddle to Torrontés Riojano.  Torrontés Mendocino, despite being named after Mendoza, is rarely seen there and is mostly found in the southern province of Rio Negro.

For many years it was thought (naturally, I think) that the Torrontés of Argentina was the same grape, known by the same name, grown in Galicia and other regions of Spain. It was thought that the grape was simply brought to the new world along with an influx of immigrants from Galicia into Argentina.  However, recent DNA evidence has shown there is no relation between the two grapes. The Torrontés of Galicia, grown mainly in the DO of Ribeiro, is now known to be identical to the Fernão Pires of Portugal.  It aslo appears that many different grape varieties go by the name “Torrontés” in Spain. To quote Jancis Robinson and her co-authors in Wine Grapes, “Confusion reigns supreme over Torrontés in the Iberian Peninsula.”

Crios TorrontesChile grows a good deal of Torrontés, sometimes under the synonym “Moscatel de Austria.”  There are varying reports of its exact provenance, with some publications claiming that most Chilean Torrontés is the Sanjuanino version and others that claim it to be Riojano. We do for certain that much of the Torrontés grown in Chile ends up distilled into Pisco.  Wines (and grapes) labeled as Torrontés in Chile may also actually be Torontel, a closely related but separate crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla. Tortontel-by its correct name- is grown in many regions in Chile.

In case you would like to be confused even more, there is also a red grape known as Torrontés, which also goes by the names Tarrantes and Turrundos. Perhaps that is a good topic for another day.  For now, I think I need a glass of Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontés, Cafayate, 2012 (peach, melon, honeysuckle, tropical fruit, and most likely Torrontés Riojano) to calm my brain down.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your SWE Blog  Administrator – bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

 

Coro Mendocino

Point Arena Lighthouse, Mendocino, California

Point Arena Lighthouse, Mendocino, California

Mendocino County is known for many things, including its often mentioned “official #1 cash crop,” the Skunk Train, and the Point Arena Lighthouse. We wine lovers also apprciate its 13 AVAs (two more pending), it sparkling wines, and the Café Beaujolais.

But did you know that Mendocino County is also home to the only “Regional-Identity” wine program in the United States? In an approach somewhat similar to that of many European appellations, any wine producer in Mendocino County can produce the wine, known as “Coro Mendocino,” provided they follow the rules.

According to the Coro Mendocino website, “Coro means ‘chorus’ in Italian and Spanish and is reflective of the collaborative spirit of Mendocino County’s winemakers, our distinctive voices heard together in harmony–in accord.”

The rules – and there are many – include basing the wine on the Zinfandel grape variety.  Zinfandel must be between 40% and 70% of the blend, and no other grape variety can take a dominant role.  The other grapes in the blend can include the following varieties, as long as they do not overpower the Zinfandel:  Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and Primitivo. There is also a 10% “free play” provision that states that 10% of the blend may be from any vinifera variety.

Coro Mendocino LabelsAll grapes in the blend must be 100% Mendocino fruit and the wine must be produced at a bonded Mendocino County Winery.  The wine must be aged for one year in barrel, followed by one year in bottle.  Along with a fairly detailed list of production parameters and labeling requirements, the wine must pass the strict review of the Coro Mendocino selection panel and review process.

Coro Mendocino has been produced every year since 2001. The 2010 version, set to be released on June 22, 2013, has a total of ten producers, including Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station. Tickets to the release party are almost sold out…but if you hurry, you might be able to grab a pair.  There will be a lovely dinner, and you know the wine will be great!

For more information:

 

Gimblett Gravels, via Aerial Topdressing

The Auster Agricola

The Auster Agricola

It’s amazing the things the study of wine can lead you to.  Do you know what “aerial topdressing is?” Neither did I, until I set about to research some of the more unique wines of New Zealand for SWE’s “Wines in the Dessert” event last May. It turns out that aerial topdressing is an agricultural application that uses aircraft to spread fertilizers over farmland.  The practice was developed in New Zealand in the 1940’s. A special plane known as “The Auster Agricola” was designed specifically for the new industry, which was quickly adopted elsewhere, although it remains a New Zealand specialty.

It turns out aerial topdressing is the reason that Gimblett Gravels, one of the most unique wine terroirs in the new world, came to be.  You know there’s a story there!

The story begins in 1980, in the Hawke’s Bay Region of New Zealand.  Hawke’s Bay, being at the east end of one of the widest portions of the islands of New Zealand, is one of the warmest sections of the country and for that reason is one of the few places where red grapes (other than Pinot Noir) can fully ripen. Due to its geography, the area gets less rain, and more sun than other areas of the country.

Within the Hawke’s Bay Region, the forgotten area down at the end of Gimblett Road was considered to be the poorest, least productive land in the area; too infertile even to use to graze sheep, so nobody dared plant a thing.  The area instead was given over to warehouses, strip malls, an army firing range, and a concrete company that used the area to mine for gravel.

Gimblett GravelsChris Pask, a local businessman, owned a few vineyards in the Hawke’s Bay Region but often had difficulty getting his Cabernet Sauvignon to fully ripen.  Coincidentally, Chris’ day job, aerial topdressing, had him flying over the area near the end of Gimblett Road every day.  One day, as he looked down on the dry, dusty wasteland, he had a crazy idea that maybe his grapes would have a chance of ripening if planted there.

In 1981, risking ridicule, he bought nearly 100 acres at the end of Gimblett Road and planted Cabernet Sauvignon.  His first wine from these newly planted vines,  produced with the 1985 vintage, was released to wide acclaim.  Assured that he wasn’t crazy, Pask proceeded to buy more vineyard land and plant more grapes, including Malbec, Syrah, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc in addition to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Despite Pask’s initial success, it was no easy task getting the region zoned for viticulture and wine making.  As a matter of fact, it was not until 1992 that all the legal battles were won, enabling wine making facilities and full-scale viticulture to come to the area.  As one can well imagine, a land stampede soon followed as companies such as Babich and Villa Maria set up shop.  Malls gave way to Merlot, warehouses became wineries, and the concrete company at the end of Gimblett Road gave up their gravel dreams and sold their land to a winery. The Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District now has almost 2,000 acres of vineyards.

Gimlett gravels SoilThe Gimblett Gravels region is strictly determined by its soil.  The unique gravelly soils of the region are the result of a huge flood on the Old Ngaruroro River in the 1860’s.  Due to the heat retention of the gravelly soil, Gimblett Gravels is warmer during the day in summer and autumn than the surrounding areas of Hawke’s Bay. The evenings are also warmer due to the heat retention of the stony ground. It is this extra heat that allows red grapes, including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, to ripen so well here, and puts Gimblett Gravels among the world’s best terroirs for growing fine wine.

For more information:

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator)

Water and Wine: Clear Lake, Lake County

Lake County VineyardsLake County, California, has some mighty impressive wine country neighbors.   The region shares its borders with Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino; collectively the four regions make up the North Coast Regional AVA, a relatively neat  if somewhat irregular “rectangle” north of San Francisco.

Located at the intersection of the Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains, Lake County is only 10 miles from Calistoga, yet the drive along the winding roads takes an hour. The namesake lake of the region, Clear Lake, is the largest freshwater body of water in the state of California. The presence of this lake buffers the temperature and provides great diurnal temperature swings, which promotes good acid retention in the grapes grown in the area.  Surrounded by rollings hills and (hopefully) inactive volcanoes, the diverse volcanic soils provide excellent drainage througout the region.

Before Prohibition, Lake County accounted for more grapes than Napa, but with no rail service, it wasn’t able to recover after repeal the way other areas of California did. Cheap land values sparked resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and now the area is producing award-winning wines and has nearly 8,500 acres planted with vines, with continued growth anticipated.

The average elevation of Lake County’s vineyards is 1,500 feet, with some reaching up to 3,000 feet above sea level. The high elevation coupled with good air quality (the purest in California, according to the Environmental Protection Agency) maximizes the solar potential, resulting in higher levels of ultraviolet light. Consequently, the grapes develop thick skins, with high levels of anthocyanins, polyphenols, and tannins and low levels of pyrazines. This low-pyrazine producing  attribute made Clear Lake a popular region for growing Sauvignon Blanc, which until the region’s recent resurgence was the most widely grown grape in the region.

Lake County Wineries

Lake County has five designated AVAs:

  • Benmore Valley AVA was named for Benjamin Moore, a 19th century cattle rustler.  This area is cooler than the surrounding areas.  As there are currently no wineries located in the Benmore Valley AVA; grapes grown here are sourced by several local wineries.
  • Half of the area in the Clear Lake AVA is taken up by the lake itself.  The lake moderates the temperature of the vineyards in the area, minimizing the diurnal temperature swings as compared to the surrounding regions.
  • The High Valley AVA is located in the eastern part of the county at elevations ranging from 1,600 feet to 3,000 feet above sea level.
  • The rolling hills of the Red Hills Lake Country AVA lie along the southwestern shores of Clear Lake, at the foot of Mount Konocti, an extinct volcano.
  • Established in 1981, the Guenoc Valley AVA was the first AVA granted to an area with just a single winery. Geologically, Guenoc Valley is a small inland valley extending from upper Napa County.

Cabernet Sauvignon is currently the most widely planted grape in Lake County, followed by Merlot at a distant second, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. Petite Sirah, while not being one of the most widely planted grapes in the area, does exceedingly well here…fans of P.S. should keep their eyes open for award-winning wines from Lake County!

To learn more about Lake County Wines:  http://www.lakecountywineries.org/

Lake County Winegrape Growers’ Association:  http://www.lakecountywinegrape.org/lcwc/

Salta: The Highest and the Lowest

Salta VineyardsThe Salta wine region, in the far north of Argentina, is a wine region of extremes.  Starting at around 24°S latitude, the area is the same distance from the equator as Baja California, Key West, and Riyadh.  Viticulture in this low latitude is made possible by another extreme, as Salta is home to the highest altitude vineyards in the world.

Interestingly enough, these two extremes seem to work well together, as the heat that would be expected from the low latitude is balanced by the cool temperatures expected in high altitudes.  The combination makes this region uniquely well suited for producing quality wine. The rain shadow of the Andes keeps the region dry while providing meltwater from the snowy peaks for irrigation. The diurnal temperature swing here is also extreme; in the summer, day time temperatures can soar up to 100°F and down to 55°F that same night.  This wide fluctuation allows the grapes to gain sugar ripeness in the day, while holding onto is acidity at night.

Salta is a small region, with less than 5,000 acres under vine, and accordingly produces just a tiny percentage of Argentina’s wine.  However, the region has an excellent reputation for high quality.  There are two main sub-regions of Salta, each with its own unique terroir and specialty.

Map of SaltaThe largest subregion, Cafayate, is home to over 70% of the vineyards in Salta.  The vineyards here range in altitude from 5,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level.  Cafayate is well-known for high-quality Torrontés as well as Malbec, and is beginning to be planted to Chardonnay, Tannat, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cafayate is located within the scenic Colcchaquí Valley (Valles Calchaquíes), a tourist region well-known for its diverse colors, scenic beauty, and wide range of terrain from high mountain dessert to sub-tropical forests.

Starting at an altitude of 7,000 feet and climbing, the region of Molinos surrounds the town of the same name. It is here that you will find the highest altitude vineyards in the world.  Pre-phylloxera Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon were brought here from France in 1854 and some of these vines still thrive.

Bodega Colomé, one of the oldest wineries in Argentina, was founded here in 1831. After searching for years for the perfect spot to produce Argentine wine, Donald and Ursula Hess of the Hess Collection purchased the property in 2001.

colome reservaBodega Colomé has four vineyards, all of them fairly close to the sun.  The La Brava Vineyard, located in Cafayate, sits at 5,741 feet.  The Colomé Vineyard, surrounding the winery in Molinos, begins at 7,545 feet.   The El Arenal vineyard, a relatively young vineyard planted to Malbec, begins at an elevation of 8,858 feet.   The highest vineyard in the world, Altura Maxima, is here in the Molinos subregion, and sits at an altitude of 10,206 feet.

The flagship wine, Colomé Reserva Malbec, is produced from the oldest pre-phylloxera vines on the estate.  These vines range from 60 to 150 years old. If you think you can handle the high altitude, Bodega Colomé welcomes guests to its vineyards at the top of the world, complete with a visitor center, world-class restaurant and art gallery.

Bodega Colomé:   http://www.bodegacolome.com/

Map of Salta via Wines of Argentina:   http://winesofargentina.org/en

To be fair:  Bolivia also claims to have the highest vineyards in the world…rest assured we will investigate soon!

The Winds of Wine: The Zonda

TArgentina Vineyard Malbechey call it Huayrapuca, “the witches wind.”  It sends birds flying, makes the sun appear brown, and knocks down trees. When they feel it approaching, people complain of sleeplessness, anxiety, a suffocating feeling, and depression. It usually starts up between noon and six pm, can last anywhere from one to 12 hours, and sounds eerily like a human whistling sound.

They also call it the Zonda wind, “viento Zonda.”  Technically, the Zonda wind is a type of foehn wind, that is, a dry, down-slope wind that occurs on the lee (downwind) side of a mountain range. The Zonda is a regional term used for this type of wind as it occurs over those parts of western Argentina tucked into the slopes of the Andes, including the wine regions of Mendoza, La Rioja, and San Juan.  The wind is especially brutal in these areas due to the high altitude of the mountain range it must climb over (and swoosh down.)

The Zonda forms as a result of humid air rising off the Pacific Ocean, where it travels up and over the Chilean side of the Andes.  In the winter it helps the snow build-up in the high elevations of the Andes, which provides the much-needed melt-off  to the vineyards of South America each year.

Argentina Andes ValleyIn the spring and summer, however, the Zonda can create havoc as it descends down the Argentine side of the mountains.  It loses its moisture, becomes warmer and warmer, and gathers up large clouds of dust.  The Zonda generally rushes off the mountains at 25 miles per hour (40km/h) but can reach speeds of 120 miles per hour (~200 km/h). The Zonda can raise temperatures by as much as 54°F (30°C) in just a couple of hours; and the wind event is often followed by a freezing cold front.  No wonder people go crazy!

While this unique weather phenomenon is a necessary part of the terroir of the region, it can also be disastrous to the vineyards.  A Zonda in the spring can wind-burn a vine’s leaves and shoots or shake them right off the vine. The cold front that often follows the hot, dry wind can bring with it the risk of severe frost damage.  For an interesting, short interview with a winemaker in his vineyard after a Zonda, click here.

The Legend of the Zonda

Legend holds that a Calchaqui Indian named Huampi was an arrogant hunter who spared no creature on his frequent hunting trips.  He killed every creature in his path, from the tiniest wood birds to the majestic llama.  His hunting prowess earned him great respect and he enjoyed being revered and even feared.  However, his hunting was out of control to point that all of the region’s animals were on the brink of extinction.

dust stormOne day, as he was returning from the hunt, Pachamama, the earth goddess, appeared before him in a blinding light and said, “Humapi, villainous child of the earth! Do you intend to kill all the animals? Who will feed you when there is no meat, and who will clothe you when there is no wool?”  And then, in a flash, she was gone.

As Huampi slumped against a tree and tried to calm himself, he heard a strange whistling sound.  He felt his face lashed and burnt by the wind.  All around him, trees crashed to the ground, flowers and fruit swirled over his head, and he was blinded by the stinging dust in his eyes.  Pachamama’s revenge was upon him, and since that day, as the Zonda screeches through the Andean valleys, it cries out with a human voice, causing all in its path to stop and pay respect to the power of mother earth.

For more information on “the winds of wine,” see our posts on The Mistral and The Roaring 40′s.

 

 Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org