Climate is one of the most significant factors that directly affect high-altitude wines. Usually, at the top of the mountain, we can find lower temperatures and decreased ventilation.
These directly impact the vineyards, which are exposed to cooler breezes, especially at night. This diurnal range (difference between day and night temperature) helps the wines to preserve acidity and generates a slower ripening season. Therefore, a more extended growth period.
With exposure to UV radiation, high-altitude vineyards are known for producing delicate wines with unique aromas and flavors. Conversely, you may find poorer soils in high-altitude vineyards, which means lower nutrients, better drainage, and lower yields.
Under those conditions, smaller berries with thicker skins are produced. They give high tannins and fresh aromatic, elegant styles of wines due to a better skin-to-pulp ratio.
But Where Can We Find These Types of High Altitude Wines?
Jancis Robinson's book The Oxford Companion to Wine says, "Most of the highest established vineyards are found in Latin America, but new plantings in the Himalayas are challenging them.”
But let's not keep the curiosity longer, and let's start to name some of them:
- Bodegas Colomé'svineyards near Molinos, at the Calchaquí Valley, in Salta, Argentina, are planted at 7218-7546 ft. The passion and persistence of the Swiss Donald Hess and the extraordinary work of talented winemaker Thibaut Delmotte have given results in producing some of the most outstanding wines in the world that can benefit from these "extreme conditions."
According to Wine Enthusiast Interview, Delemotte said, “We have ozone in the atmosphere and, therefore, more UV radiation. The fruit has to protect itself from this high radiation, producing thicker and darker skin. So the wines have a darker, deeper color and great tannic structure”.
He also claimed, “The extreme conditions produce high-quality fruit and give us a great paradox: very dark and concentrated wine, but elegant, fresh and harmonious simultaneously.”
Learn more about Argentinian Wines here. At Big Hammer Wines, we believe there's no substitute for wine education that can transport you to the real places where wine culture lives.
- The highest European Vineyards are those in the appellation of “Abona” in the Canary Islands at up to 5280 ft.
The name of the winery that holds this peculiarity is Bodega Frontos, a local family business since the 1950s that produces organic Listan Blanco or Palomino. According to Sorrel Moseley-Williams Wine Enthusiast, these vineyards had been planted since the 15th century.
It is a very challenging area for viticulture due to the location on semi arid-soils where the vineyards are placed. Additionally, the weather conditions are not helpful; the lack of rainfall generates drought, and the growth on steep slopes is complicated. For these reasons, winemaking deserves enormous merit.
- Some for-profit vineyards are found up to (9,515 feet) in the Himalayas in Asia, southwest of China. However, the large luxury companies saw the region's capacity by founding Ao Yun, acquired by the top-tier group LVMH. "Ao Yun" means "flying above the clouds" planted within 28 hectares of diverse soils. The winery produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, wines requiring long maturation periods because there is very little sunlight.
However, these high-altitude wines have the advantage of having cold nights, guaranteeing the freshness and acidity necessary to produce wines of unique quality.
- The next region with high-altitude wines to present is Southern California at 6855 ft Stone Summit Vineyard in Big Bear Mountain. It began planting grapes in 2012 and has produced more than 2,000 vines.
- Back in Europe, In Switzerland, the vineyards of Visperterminen grow in altitudes of 4100 ft above sea level. Out of the grape varieties grown, the Heida grape is the region's most popular and authentic signature stamp.
The growing area is spectacular, the views surrounding the Valais Alps are breathtaking, and there is plenty of support for tourism & hospitality that promotes discovering the wineries. Look at St. Jorden Kellerei if you are still curious about the wineries. It's unbelievable!
- And lastly, our last region is Valle d'Aosta's, where vineyards are among the highest vineyards in Europe.
It is surrounded by the highest peaks of the Alps, nestled at the foothills of Monte Bianco/Montblanc. In the Area of Morgex, La salle, located in the Upper Valley, you can find some of the highest vineyards at 2,600-3,900 ft in elevation. Due to the proximity to the Alps, it has a continental climate. However, it benefits from the mountain range that gives protection from the cold winds.
In this region, the type of viticulture practiced is called "Heroic Viticulture" due to the difficulty of planting vines on steep slopes.
Cave Mont Blanc is the perfect example of this type of viticulture, producing dry white wine with the variety Prie Blanc in vineyards at 3900 ft. The wines here are fresh, light, and slightly floral, with high acidity and some herbal notes. (This winery also produces small quantities of Sparkling Wines with the traditional method).
The main characteristics of these wines in the region are that they are light, fresh fruity with a high acidity level, representing this Alpine region's expression.
They also produce Red Wines with a fruity character, light to full body, moderate tannin, and high acidity style. White wines with floral and aromatic notes, intense minerality, and medium alcohol. And sweet wines are made by the Passito Method or Late Harvest Method. These last ones have a unique, complex profile with dried stone fruits and honey flavors.
Impressive, isn't it? The beauty of learning about all of these extreme growing conditions in vineyards makes you appreciate wine better. Numerous regions worldwide are not famous, but they do a fantastic job. At BHW, we love to share these insights with our readers to generate passion and love for wine.
Cheers to wines with altitude!
- WINE SPECTATOR. (2018, June 18). What difference does altitude make to a vineyard?
- DECANTER STAFF (2022, May 17). Bodega Colomé – wines from the Altura Maxima vineyard
- Wine Business (Jun 26, 2013)
- KREBIEHL, A. MW. (Published on January 5, 2021)The difference between high and Low-Elevation Wine
- The highest vineyards in Europe. (n.d.).
- WRIGHT, R. W. (2015, April 10). Stone Summit.
- SORREL M, S. M. W. (2018, April). High Altitude Vineyards that are changing wine.
- HIDALGO, J. H. (2021, February 4). VINOUS. Extreme High-Altitude Wines from Argentina's Northern Valleys.
- J. Robinson and Harding. J The Oxford Companion to Wine. Fourth Edition. Elevation.
- Wine Scholar Guild. Unit 1. Northern Italian Wines.
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