How Wind Affects Wine

It’s a force of Mother Nature you might not think about when tasting a wine

One of the things that makes wine so fascinating is the interplay of factors beyond the winemaker’s control. Climate and soil are the most important of these, but other seemingly mild variables can play a role, too. In some places, air currents are particularly influential. Air patterns have three important effects on grapes. The most significant is how currents can regulate temperature. Indeed, France’s famed Burgundys are warmed by the North Atlantic current we learned about in middle school. Another benefit of wind is that it can dry grapes, which is particularly important near harvest time when the grapes are susceptible to all sorts of molds. Finally, robust currents spread yeast from forest and field to vines, which allows wine-makers to rely less on commercial yeasts.  The following wines all show the stamp of wind.

Van Duzer Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2009, $28

The vineyards here lie at the end of the “Van Duzer Corridor” at about the same latitude of Salem in Oregon’s Willamette valley. A cool afternoon Pacific breeze rushes through a break in the mountains of the coast range, which provides for cool afternoons and a long growing season. This is a delicate Pinot Noir, with dark berry fruit (a trademark of those vineyards close to the Corridor) and enticing notes of orange and musk.

Domaine Rouge Bleu, “Mistral,” Côtes du Rhone, France, 2009, $22

The autumn Mistral flows through France’s Rhone valley, cooling the grapes and, according to winemaker Jean Marc Espinasse, also spreading ambient yields. The result is a “super” Côtes du Rhone, full of bacony and barnyard aromas with flavors of elderberry jam and thick, healthy tannins. It’s at home with grilled steak or blackened black bass. 

Michel Osmin, “Foehn,” Jurancon, France, 2008, $34

The Foehn blows up from Spain, through the Pyrenees and into France’s Jurancon region, where its breezes gently
dehydrate the fall grapes, leaving powerfully flavored grapes. Sweet and savory, this nutty wine is great with funky cheeses and mildly sweet fruit desserts.

Available at Madison’s finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested. Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.

Read more Off the Vine columns here

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