In Scotland lies a vineyard. Just a single one. It’s had a successful vintage. Again, just a single one. Grapes reached acceptable sugar levels, were harvested and then subsequently allowed to totally over oxidise and were, thus, lost. A pity, although it’d be likely the farmer wouldn’t be allowed to sell it as it’s an unlegislated agricultural product of the country. It would certainly be a system shock though – I’m sure the Scottish Board of Farmers and Agriculture didn’t expect vineyard legislation for a few hundred years!
Anyway, back to South Africa, a place where you can actually grow grapes that ripen properly and make wine with relative ease (relative term). The conceptions of “best” region have been shifted in the recent decades. Regions that were considered only worthy enough to produce wines in a container with vertices (also cardboard) now produce stellar dry wines. In fact, by the Winkler heat scale’s own denomination, Stellenbosch – one of South Africa’s “cool climate” regions is actually pretty scorching. I wonder where all these global award winning Chardonnays come from then? Heat scales tell us that quality Chardonnays need a much cooler climate to be produced…I guess South African producers must be buying black market Chardonnay from Burgundy and putting their labels on it…Seriously though, I think people who know heat scales also know they are to be taken as literally as a horoscope.
One of the best examples of breaking the rules or bending-the-terroir would be to look to the Karoo. It’s arguably the frontier of South African viticulture, now that the Lower Orange River Valley has been brought into relative submission. The Karoo is characterized by searing summers and merciless winters. Black Frost shows up and wreaks havoc as dramatic as its Fairy Tale name might suggest! Annually 40% or more of the yield is lost, before any rot or pests come into play! The results speak for themselves, however, some wines have emerged and with quite a statement. The big shots caught wind – Distel et al – and wanted a piece of the action, seeing as the land over there is so cheap and abundant, but one looks at the risks and interest vaporised.
If you work hard enough and smart enough a great deal of adversities can be overcome. Scotland, however, might be pushing its luck right now. Even England’s modest summers barely give enough heat to scrape the grapes over the ripening finish line. On top of that, the winters are brutal and the vineyards don’t need the frequent unscheduled national flood irrigation they receive gratis and unwillingly. In Death Valley, it’s so hot the grapes ripen, ferment and are pasteurized before they’re even picked. In the tropics rot is so abundant, the grapes have to sit in a figurative chemical hazmat suit all year. Even the most pessimistic of us doesn’t want to consume that. No farmer wants any of these adversities, given the choice.
But, if you are a farmer, you made a choice to face off against Mother Nature in some form or another, hot or cold, wet or dry. Where you choose to work is up to you. So bear in mind what Dante said: “abandon hope all ye who enter here” – which is pretty rich coming from a guy who lived in Italy where caprese platters basically grow out of your plate. Of course, though, he wasn’t prattling on about viticulture.