The Truth About Terroir
Have you ever sat down with a glass of vino and wondered what makes it so unique? If you consider yourself a wine connoisseur, then you may know the basics of winemaking, but for many of us there is much we don’t know. Luckily, two expert winemakers from two separate regions were happy to lend their knowledge to Wineries of Victoria on the topics of vineyard soil and climate, and how these elements help shape every delicious drop.
FROM THE GROUND UP
All success stories start with a foundation – a base in which the necessary components can flourish. In the case of winemaking, the precious foundation is soil. To a certain extent, the earth under the vine can influence wine quality with its own characteristics and, combined with the regional environment, is one of the most powerful components in the world of winemaking. The landscape of every vineyard is slightly different to the next.
Getting into the dirty nature of the matter, Hayes from Warramunda Estate explains the importance of healthy earth. “The best soils are those that suit the desired end use,” he says. “They should present balanced chemical components, an open physical structure, and a high level of natural biodiversity.”
As the texture and taste of wine can be directly affected by the ground in which it is grown, and with such a varied range of soils found across the state, the difference is noticeable.
If you love the strong smell of a wine, Hayes says the drop was most likely created in a dry environment. “Sandy soils, such as old river banks, produce elegant wines with high aromatics that are often slightly pale in colour with less of a tannin. These soils tend to retain heat, drain well, and offer resistance to pests such phylloxera,” he adds.
For lovers of a strong and infused wine, dampened areas are where it all began. “The high water-withholding capacity and cool temperatures of clay soils tend to produce muscular wines with high extracts that are bolder in style. Varieties suited to clay are merlot and tempranillo,” says Hayes. When clay is blended with other soil types such as limestone, it creates calcareous clay that is renowned for producing powerful wines such as pinot noir and chardonnay.
As well as soil, the skies above and the air surrounding the wineries play an equally important role in the winemaking process. As we all know, no one can control the weather, which is why certain vineyards produce particular wines that complement their geographical strengths. “Climate is the principal factor that determines what varieties grow best in what regions, and when soil and climate combine they influence flavours and styles,” says Guthrie from Grampians Estate.
Healthy soil produces healthy wine, and a lot of work goes into the earth to ensure good growth. As each region experiences different terroir, Hayes explains the importance of knowing the vineyard’s environment and how a considered process helps keep the soil in a workable condition. “Having the right match of site and variety, as well as an understanding of the area, including the surroundings and threats such as pets and diseases, will help you manage all aspects,” he says. “Ensuring a high-level of biodiversity in your vineyard and undertaking viticultural management measures at the right times in the seasonal calendar, will result in a balanced vegetative and reproductive growth,” Hayes adds.
Guthrie explains that there also needs to be a balanced mix of nature and nurture. The environmental elements that affect soil include altitude, the lay of the land, its proximity to the seas, rainfall, as well as the ground’s pH levels and access to adequate nutrients.
While the earth below the vine comes with the territory, Guthrie also says the soil must be consistently cared for in order to create great wine. “You need healthy soil, sufficient moisture levels, good vine disease control, regular monitoring of vine health, pruning to match fruit loads, and vine balance with a sufficient leaf area to ripen crop,” he says.
COOL, CALM AND COLLECTED
Compared to the rest of the country, Victoria is a generally cool state. Known for its brisk winters and chilly winds, the cold, icy climate adds depth to certain varietals. Typically more complex than warmer-region wines, cool-climate wines boast an unmatched intensity and natural acidity that brings with it a crisp and fresh palate. Also known to complement a wide range of food groups, rather than overwhelm the meal, wines produced in colder regions have more profound flavours, due to concentrated sunlight exposure.
Unlike in warmer regions, Victorian winemakers generally experience a more measured process. With lower temperatures and less sun coverage, the UV rays take longer to penetrate the grapes, which, as Guthrie explains, is very valuable.
“Vine growth and berry development is slower in cool regions than it is in hot,” he says. “This is especially beneficial during the ripening stage, as a long, slow period is conducive to producing higher-quality fruit and wine. This ensures a more elegant wine with good pepper and spice,” Guthrie says.
“Wines harvested too early in a warm climate can lack balance and expression, become overtly ripe, high in alcohol and unbalanced,” Hayes adds.
For optimum balance between the wine components, and the perfect end product, the cool regions allow for a certain type of fruitfulness compared to warmer regions. Hayes explains that the ripening patterns, harvest timings and the ways in which the vines are managed to deal with the cold climate help create an elegant, complex and long-lasting wine.
Known for its exceptionally tasty wines, Australia is a leader in the global winemaking business. Consistently growing high-quality produce, the terroir of our land and the forward-thinking minds that cater for it are the reasons why Australian wines are so successful at home and abroad. With a wide range of small family-owned companies, as well as a handful of large enterprises, the Australian wine landscape is vast and evolutionary, and offers a different experience in every vineyard and cellar door you visit.
Being one of the largest wine producers in the Southern Hemisphere, Australian winemakers relish the freedom of creating wine that is exactly how they want it to be. “Australian winemakers aren’t bound by the traditions of older regions such as in France,” says Guthrie. “With modern equipment, willingness to experiment and a competitive wine market, Australia produces an amazing variety of clean, bright, fresh wines that meet the market both domestically and overseas.”
While the history of Europe is lengthy and grand, Hayes explains that modern Australian winemakers are on par with some original vintners. “Australia makes new-world wines, but also has the potential to produce highly restrained, savoury wine styles, which are often comparable with those of Europe,” he says. Constantly up against the best wine regions in the world at international wine shows, Hayes further notes that homegrown wine presents a notable and long-lasting impression. “Australian wine quality and diversity is currently more competitive with the classic regions of the world than ever before,” he says.
Taking full advantage of the new-age world in which Australians live, as well as the rich contemporary environment we are blessed with, every drop is a representation of the country. “The diversity of people and characters is what makes Australian wines unique, as it characterises the fabric of our fast-moving industry,” Hayes says.
Australia’s unwavering ability to produce wines with fully developed flavour and a full range of aromatics and complexity is what makes our native wines, and the people crafting them, so special.
Vastly different from the lush grounds of Europe, the Australian climate can be harsh and unforgiving, especially to those who rely on its foundations.
Compared to wine regions across the world, the Australian environment experiences a more difficult range of circumstances, but as Hayes explains, the soil possesses a very resilient nature. “Australian soils are very varied,” he says. The drought conditions to which Australian soils are exposed often make these issues worse. However, fine wine is often grown in poor soils, with the key being how to manage the soils sustainably and sensitively.
Winemaking is a fascinating process that heavily relies on both places and people. Victoria, and Australia in general, has an incredible range of wine, so next time you take a sip, stop and think about where that first grape grew and the talented winemaker who tended to the soil it ripened in.