Meggan Robinson on November 16, 2015 0 Comments We’re all familiar with the division of wines into Old World and New World categories. Old World wines–typically from Europe–have been made the same way for generations, and they speak of terroir and deep roots. New World wines are typically flashier–full of fruit and built on sleek modern lines, honed by new technology. There’s a new and growing wine category, though, that doesn’t fit anywhere in our typical understanding of wine categories. New Latitude wines don’t just break the rules, they rewrite them. What are New Latitude Wines? For hundreds of years, we’ve considered the areas where wine grapes can be grown as falling between 30° and 50°–and those latitudes held true for both the northern and the southern hemispheres. Above 50° temperatures were too cold, and a shortage of sunlight kept grapes from ripening fully. Below 30° temperatures were too hot, and problems with water (either shortage or surplus) made grape growing impractical, if not impossible. My, how times have changed. A host of developments–from climate change to technological and viticultural advances–have combined to broaden perspectives on suitable latitudes for grape growing. Now, in addition to countries like France and Italy, we find wines from places like Denmark, Indonesia, Sweden, Namibia, and Brazil. As you might expect, winemakers in lower latitudes face quite different challenges than do winemakers in higher latitudes, so we’ll tackle each problem separately. photo credit Low Latitude Wines Most of the press about New Latitude wines has focused on countries between the 30°N and 30°S lines on the globe, mostly because the explosion in the number of producers is staggering. Indonesia, Bali, India, Thailand, Tahiti, Brazil, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Kenya, Peru, Bolivia, Namibia, and Costa Rica just make up a partial list of countries currently producing wine commercially. So why the sudden increase in wine production near the equator? The short answer is: Because it’s possible. Climate change doesn’t have anything to do with the boom in low latitude wines, but rather it’s our ability to control our environment that’s responsible. As it turns out, plants are pretty versatile, and they’re pretty good at adapting to different environments. Additionally, different grape varieties have been developed to better suit hot climates, and the use of hormones as crop regulators permits growers to control more aspects of vineyard management than before. In fact, growers can actually produce two crops from a vineyard every year, effectively doubling production from the land and taking even better advantage of the inexpensive labor that’s clustered in countries near the equator. While low latitude wines aren’t without their challenges, being able to irrigate dry climates only as needed, push vines to produce two crops a year, and attract investors makes the challenge worth taking on. Let’s take a look at some of the countries entering the world wine market. Thailand The most prominent winery owner in Thailand has to be Khun Chalerm Yoovidya, and while you may not know his name, you certainly know his most famous product: Red Bull. He founded Siam Winery in 1996, and the wines they export are under the Monsoon Valley label. Yoovidya isn’t alone. The Thai beer company Singha has a wine subsidiary, and there’s investment in Thai wines from companies in China as well. Grapevines in Thailand don’t exactly look like traditional vineyards elsewhere. They actually float on rivers, and some wineries even offer tours of vineyards on…wait for it…elephants! Thai grape growers work with grape varieties we know and love, like Shiraz, Black Muscat, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, and Tempranillo, but they also grow more exotic varieties like Malaga Blanc and the indigenous Pok Dum (a red grape). Grown at roughly 15°N latitude, Thailand is certainly New Latitude. Bali The Indonesian island of Bali is situated at roughly 8° south of the equator. Many of its wines are stylistically perfectly suited to Indonesian cuisine, as they’re young, sweet, and relatively low in alcohol. One interesting winery, Sababay, works hard to retain the exotic Balinese character of the island’s people, while still producing wines with broad appeal. They grow Alphonse Lavallée (a red grape grown for both wine and table) and Muscat Saint Vallier (a white variety). Hatten, another fairly well known Balinese winery produces a sparkling wine from an indigenous variety called Propolinggo Biru. Brazil Much of the New Latitude wine buzz has focused on Brazil. It’s big business, and it’s only getting bigger. Located in the State of Bahia, in the São Francisco Valley, Vinibrasil is making wines at 8°S. The semi-arid climate means that Dão Sul, Vinibrasil’s parent company, relies heavily on irrigation to ensure vines get enough water, and as you might expect, some Portuguese varieties are among those grown. Vinibrasil grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, Tanat, and Malbec. Brazil doesn’t look just to its Portuguese roots, though. Champagne and luxury goods behemoth, Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH) is invested in the country’s burgeoning wine trade as well. Chandon do Brasil grows Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Riesling Italico (Welschriesling) that go into their sparkling wines. Given the progress being made in Brazil, as well as the very inexpensive labor and the twice-annual harvest that’s possible in some vineyards, we should expect to see more Brazilian wine on the international market. India Though historically India’s wine consumption has been very low, it’s growing rapidly, fueled in part by the growth of the country’s middle class. India is huge, ranging from 36°N to 8°N at its southern tip. A large number of grapes are cultivated in India: from the native varieties Anabeshahi, Arkavati, Arkashyam, and Bangalore Blue, to international varieties Sultana (Thompson Seedless), Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Chenin Blanc, among others. One of the challenges of growing grapes in lower latitudes is protecting the grapes from too much sun and heat. Some Indian vineyards are trellised with bamboo and wire, making the most of the canopy of leaves to shade the clusters of grapes. Some areas of India are able to harvest twice each year, and in other areas, the grapes are actually harvested in February and March (though they’re in the northern hemisphere) to take advantage of cooler weather. As in Brazil, foreign investment is often a sign that a country has great potential for making world-class wines, and Grover Zampa Vineyards has certainly benefited from its partnerships with foreign investors. LVMH used to own a portion of the company, though its interest has been sold off in favor of Indian and Singapore-based investors. One indicator that Grover Zampa is serious about making high quality wines is their choice of wine consultant–the world-famous Michel Rolland. Kenya Kenya wins for the lowest latitude country producing wine, as the equator runs through the middle of the country which stretches from 4°N to 4°S. Though the country’s first wine was actually produced in 1985, it’s still just a fledgling business. Some growers harvest in both spring and fall, and international varieties Sauvignon Blanc and Colombard, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz are among the ones planted here. As of 2014, there are only two wineries in Kenya, one to the west of Nairobi and the other to the east, in the Rift Valley. While Kenyan growers face the same challenges of other low latitude locations, there are unique struggles too. The Morendat vineyard, for example, employs 80 men full time to wander through the vineyard and yell to scare off birds and monkeys who would otherwise devour the entire crop of grapes. High Latitude Wines While growers near the equator struggle to irrigate deserts and shield grapes from the sun, growers in latitudes greater than 50° struggle with an entirely different set of challenges. Though the climate has changed enough to lengthen the growing season by as much as a month in some high latitude locations, getting enough sunlight and warmth is still difficult and unpredictable. And though more cold-resistant vines have been developed, when winter temperatures plummet, the potential for frozen vines still exists. In fact, unpredictability is a huge problem for cold-climate growers, as wet summers aren’t uncommon, and rapidly changing weather patterns can cause catastrophic losses. Colder climates do offer some benefits, like a lower risk of mold than warm, humid locations. Damage from insects is also less of a problem in colder places, though a vineyard in Norway did lose an entire crop to seagulls that found the grapes irresistible. Many of the countries finding success are Scandinavian, as the gulf stream warms the climate a bit more than other countries at the same latitude. Many of these countries produce wines that are far too expensive to succeed commercially, as labor in Scandinavian countries is quite expensive and unpredictable harvests mean it’s difficult for wineries to produce consistent quantities. Growers are quite proud of their efforts, though, and some of the wines are of excellent quality. Norway Until recently, the Lerkekasa vineyard west of Oslo was considered the northernmost vineyard in the world at 59°N–the same latitude as Siberia, Southern Greenland, and Alaska. Bjorn Bergum wrested the high latitude title from Lerkekasa with his Fjord Red and Fjord White wines grown at 61.2°N. A little more research turned up one site that’s even further north, though. Near Pasvik in the county of Finnmark, researchers had been growing grapes indoors, but in the summer of 2013 they managed to ripen grapes outdoors. Pasvik is at a staggering 70°N. The grapes grown in Norway and in much of the colder climates are predominantly white. Riesling, Müller Thurgau, Pinot Blanc, Vidal, Solaris, and Bacchus are some of the common varieties. Sweden Though it’s not legal to sell wine at vineyards in Sweden, the wines are being made nonetheless. Skåne, the southernmost province, is home to a number of wineries growing Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Leon Millot, Rondo, Zalas Perle, Auxerrois, and a number of other varieties. The summers in Skåne are fairly warm, so more red varieties grow well in Sweden than in other countries. All told, more than a dozen wineries produce wine they sell to the government-run alcohol stores, and although commercial wine cultivation is young in Sweden, growers have learned a lot. Initial dreams of making large quantities of serious red wine have given way to a more realistic search for white varieties that ripen and thrive given the cold climate. Though Swedish wine is and will remain expensive compared to wines from other countries, growers remain committed to producing and selling their wares, moving toward wine and culinary tourism as a means of promoting both the country and its potential for making great wine. Denmark The very first Scandinavian country to produce wine, Denmark boasts more than fifty commercial grape growers. They produce mainly white wines, although the dessert and sparkling wines are delicious as well. Visitors can actually take the Nordsjaelland wine trail to explore the area’s wineries. One interesting connection between Denmark and the world of wine is the fact that His Royal Highness Prince Henrik actually hails from Cahors, France, and Prince Henrik and Queen Margrethe own Château de Cayx there. England The first commercial vineyard in England, Hambledon, dates back to the 1950’s. They produce sparkling wine–long thought to be England’s best bet at competing internationally, since England’s soils are much like those of Champagne. In fact, Noble Rot, a wine magazine, just hosted a tasting in which 8 Champagnes and 4 English sparkling wines were tasted blind and judged by world-renowned wine experts. Hambledon’s Classic Cuvée won the competition, beating out Pol Roger, Taittinger, and the rest of the field. An accomplishment like this one means English wines can no longer be overlooked. According to the website for English Wine Producers, there are 470 vineyards and 135 wineries in England. The most commonly planted varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Bacchus, and not surprisingly, most of the grape varieties are white. Scotland Believe it or not, there are a few vineyards in Scotland, though as yet there’s not any wine produced commercially. Christopher Trotter, a Michelin starred chef, has planted the Momentum vineyard in Fife, and expects to have wine available for sale in 2016. His first vintage wasn’t exactly a success, and Trotter described the wine as “horrible” and critics labeled it “undrinkable”, but Trotter remains confident that palatable wine can be made even at 56°N, the latitude of Fife. Poland In a country known more for vodka than wine, a small but vibrant wine scene is emerging. Though production costs in Poland are fairly high and winemaking at extreme latitudes is labor intensive, the sunny southwest of Poland is turning out lovely wines. Though wine was made in Poland in the 12th century during a temporary climactic warmup, the roughly 600 hectares of vineyards have been planted within the last decade, some even as far north as Warsaw (52°N). Grapes grown in Poland range from international varieties Chardonnay, Riesling, Bacchus, Seyval Blanc, Marechal Foch, Leon Millot, and Pinot Noir to indigenous varieties like Jutrzenka and Triumf. The little town of Zielona Góra in western Poland is considered the country’s wine capital, and in addition to an annual wine festival, there’s even a wine trail on which visitors can learn about the history of winemaking in the area and tour a modern winery. Zielona Góra touts itself as the northernmost winemaking region in Europe, though that title technically belongs to Norway. Siberia We typically think of Siberia as frozen tundra, and though much of it is, the southern areas (51-52°N) in the Altai region can actually produce wine grapes. The Altai mountains warm the area up just enough to grow Chardonnay, Muscat, Müller Thurgau, and Pinot Noir. It has taken years for the vines to produce enough grapes for commercial production, but within the next few years, producers expect to turn out roughly half a million bottles. Grape growers and winemakers in Altai partnered with French growers to obtain vine cuttings and to learn how to grow both the wine business and the accompanying tourism that makes winemaking profitable. Looking Ahead As wine production pushes past the traditional boundaries of the narrow bands between 30° and 50°, so to does our understanding of viticulture, the winemaking process, and even the ways in which wine comes to market and is sold. As our climate continues to change, we will continue to see new areas north of the 50° mark evolving into grape-producing regions. Given the huge disparity in labor costs between low latitude wines and high latitude wines, the better bet for widely available and affordable wines in the new latitude category is near the equator. Cheap labor and the ability to harvest twice each year give low latitude countries the ability to bring huge quantities of wine into the international marketplace. Broaden your horizons and keep an eye out for wines from regions you never expected to see.