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Macroclimates and You

And we’re back. It’s time for “Terroir, Part Two,” and this time it’s all about location, location, location. Last week we talked about soil composition and you graduated with a license to use the word alluvial. This week we’ll work “macroclimate” into your vocabulary. I apologize to your party guests in advance.

As you might have guessed, Macroclimate is climate on a big scale. When we talk macroclimate, we’re talking big regions or even large groupings of smaller ones. This isn’t “Ah, yes. Well, because the prevailing westerlies have to break around that patch of trees, I think we’ll plant the Phelps clone along the bottom of the escarpment.” No, we’re talking “Hey guys! There is an ocean over there, check it out!”

So let’s break it down into some easy-to-digest, regional classes, yeah? First off, we’ve got maritime climates. Maritime climates are denoted as such because they’re defined by their proximity to large bodies of water, such as oceans, lakes and wherever large people’s tears will pool when they ban high-fructose corn syrup. Large bodies of water have a moderating effect on temperature swings; keeping things cooler in the summers and more mild in the winters. This way you avoid frost as well as over-ripening. Add to that, additional cloud cover from the readily available evaporation and you’ve got a nice mild climate that is well suited to stuff like Cab and Merlot. Sound like anywhere we’ve talked about before? Ehh? See also: Muscadet, Rias Baixas and Lon-Guyland.

Let’s move inland, shall we? All these coastal elitists are cramping my style, and I’ve always wanted to own a gun. Now we’re talking about continental climates. Because they don’t get any of that sweet, sweet moderating goodness, the temperature swings tend to be quite a bit higher, so we’re talking properly cold winters and hot-as-hell summers. Now that might not sound particularly attractive to any prospective grape-e-ologists in the area, but some spots make this work really well. Take a look at Champagne, where long days mitigate the temperature swings in the summer, limiting the heat available to our squishy little friends. There, early-ripening varieties like Pinot and Chard’ are quite happy. Do you really think that The Continental’s favorite drink is Cham-pan-ya by coincidence? I, for one, do not. Let’s also keep in mind that since we’re not near the water, it’s also likely to be quite a bit drier. This is kinda nice, because it mitigates the risk of rot or mold, and in certain areas like Mendoza, it can trick grapes used to long Maritime autumns to play nice in a neighborhood they’re not ordinarily suited to, like some charming “Coming of age” movie you sat through to get to second base.

Next we have Mediterranean climates, so called for their overuse of tahini and olives in seriously, like, every dish. Sorry, wait, no, what I meant to say is that Mediterranean climates are characterized by warm, relatively dry summers, and mild winters. These are the perfect circumstances to bringing us some seriously full-figured, ripe juice. Good examples of a Mediterranean climate would be Napa, Tuscany and Provence.

Now you may be asking “What about ZONES!? Don’t you have some handy graph that splits up wine regions based on their annual accrual of heat units in Celsius?” Yes, I do. I can also print you out a 20-page report on the effects of Double Geneva Curtain trellising on canopy management. How about we skip both of those and jump right to poking our eyes out with forks? I mean really, I love the science of wine as much as the next guy, but we all have limits. Do we really need to establish a safe word?

Next week, we’re gonna narrow things down a bit and talk about smaller scale stuff that effects climate. Things like, I dunno, trees and … native monkey populations. Stay tuned.

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