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Wine all depends on Mother Nature

"Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine."

- Thomas Aquinas

"Thomas Aquinas walks into a bar" joke on the Madam Secretary CBS TV Show.
Credit: Madam Secretary, CBS

Growing grapes is truly a complex process that heavily relies on natural conditions.

That can be a daunting task, relying on mother nature. Growers and Winemakers never know what the next season will bring. But this is one of the many factors that make wine so interesting. Like the grapes and vines themselves, growers and winemakers have to be tenacious. Creativity, flexibility, and preparation for any given condition are paramount for success.

The delicate nature of grapes during the early stages of growth requires careful attention. A successful harvest depends on favorable weather conditions, which can make or break the vintage. However, unfavorable conditions can lead to numerous setbacks. The process of growing grapes demands a great deal of patience, skill, and hard work. Nevertheless, the ultimate reward of producing high-quality wine makes all the effort worthwhile.

As a side note, "good" or "bad" growing conditions for a particular year don't equal "good" and "bad" wine or less desirable wine. This simply leads to different characteristics, which makes that vintage of wine unique. A 2018 bottle of some random varietal can taste very different than a 2019 bottle from the same winemaker/producer from the same vines.
In a future post, I'd love to explore this more. I had a bottle from one of my favorite wineries in Oregon, and the winemaker always leaves a range of years to "enjoy" the bottle during. For this particular vintage, he recommended a few more years than I'd normally wait. I was curious about why, so I looked up the weather from that year and saw that it was a colder-than-usual growing season, so this particular varietal would take longer to mature. The same could be the case if it were a warmer growing season. While not an exact science, next time you are wondering when it would be best to open a certain bottle, check out the region's climate history, and you can have a better idea of how mature the wine is.

Ok, back to the basics of growing!

The Basics

Beautiful Vineyard in the Afternoon

Let's begin with a quick overview:

It's important to note that grapes come from vines, which are incredibly resilient plants that can survive for many years (like a ridiculous amount of years, over 400).

For newly-planted vines, after only a few years of growth, these vines mature and produce a crop each year, yielding some deliciously flavorful grapes.

Then, each spring, a grapevine blossoms and produces small flowers that eventually transform into grapes.

As the summer progresses, the grapes mature and are harvested in late summer.

Here's a graphic showing the three basic stages:

The three stages of vines producing grapes; flowering, then those flowers become grapes, then the grapes ripen.

The Steps of Growth


It all starts with a group of grapevine flowers comprising numerous individual flowers, each of which will eventually transform into a grape.

Flowers Become Grapes

Once the flowering process is complete, each individual flower undergoes a change, resulting in the formation of a very small grape.

During this stage, all grapes are rigid and possess a green hue.

Grapes Ripen

As grapes mature, several changes take place. As the grapes absorb water, their size increases. Along with that, the sugar content in the grapes also rises while the acid levels fall. This process results in the development of richer flavors! White grapes undergo a color transformation from green to golden, while black grapes turn from green to purple-ish.

Process in Action

This video was shown in my class; it basically shows each season and what processes are involved. It's definitely worth a watch if you want a quick visual for all the steps involved in growing grapes to bottling wine.

The Actual Growing of the Grapes

I'm not a realtor, but evidently, grapes and real estate share a common rule of thumb - location is everything. I can definitely say it's very very true for wine!

Every grape variety thrives in specific climates, soil, and terrain conditions. Grape growers also have a similar motto: match the right grapes with the right place.

Why? Read on!

Where Grapes Grow

In order to grow and produce high-quality grapes, grapevines require specific levels of sunlight and heat.

The displayed chart indicates a correlation between the ripeness of grapes, the increase in sugar levels, and the decrease in acidity levels.
Sugar vs. Acid Correlation

If the temperature is either too low or too high, it will affect the flavor profile of the grape, and consequently, the wine will lack balance. This is where the above sugar and acid visual comes into play. In a colder season, you might have more acidic and less sweet grapes come time for harvest. Or, the inverse could occur with a very hot summer.

The ideal environment for grapevines is one where winters are sufficiently cold to allow them to enter dormancy and warm enough before harvesting to allow for proper ripening.

Grapevines thrive in areas with a balanced combination of sunlight, warmth, and moisture. Theoretically, the below map highlights where it can be "ideal" to grow grapes. Now, that being said, there are plenty of places it would be difficult (although possible) to sustain growing and harvesting a variety of grapes every year. Because at the end of the day, the motto is correct: match the right grapes with the right place... Some geographical locations have wonderful sunlight, warmth, and even cool-weather days but lack moisture. Or, it could maybe be a place that is colder and rainy, with less sunlight. Wine-producing grapes can absolutely be grown in many places; you have to match the right grapes with the right climate.

Map of highlighted sections north and south of the equator indicating ideal conditions for growing grapes.
The highlighted sections north and south of the equator are ideal for growing grapes.
Effect of Climate on Grapes

The climate plays a significant role in shaping the attributes of grapes. In general, colder temperatures result in lower sugar levels and higher acidity levels in grapes. Conversely, warmer temperatures lead to higher sugar levels and lower acidity levels in grapes, making their flavors appear more mature.

colder temperatures result in lower sugar levels and higher acidity levels in grapes. Conversely, warmer temperatures lead to higher sugar levels and lower acidity levels in grapes, making their flavors appear more mature.
Climate affects Sugar and Acid ratio
Cool Climate Regions

Areas located closer to the poles, such as Germany and northern France, typically have cooler climates. In the United States, this comes into play with wine made, for example, on the north side of Washington State and New York State.

The average temperatures tend to be lower, and the sunlight may not be as strong as in regions nearer to the Equator. There are even some years when grapes may find it difficult to ripen entirely.

So naturally, white grapes are commonly grown in these cool climate regions. You can find some fantastic white wines from cooler regions with higher acidity and citrusy fruit flavors (think lemon and lime).

Warm Climate Regions

Areas located near the Equator tend to have warmer climates. This is evident in certain parts of Australia and California and up into the northern side of Oregon (Willamette Valley) and into Washington (Walla Walla Valley), where the average temperatures are considerably higher, and the sunlight is more intense. As a result, grapes tend to ripen more consistently.

It is also more common to cultivate black grapes in these warm climate regions. For example, you'll get many of your fantastic, bold Cabernets, Syrahs, and Malbecs from these warmer regions.

What's Next: The process of making wine...

Alrighty, once those grapes are harvested, it's time for the winemaker to work their magic! It's like they're the conductor of a symphony, time to bring all the flavors and notes together to create a wine that will be enjoyed by many.

Oooh, this will be a fun section to walk through. We'll be talking a little about science and chemistry (basically just fermentation). And, as someone who is not an expert on either, my closest encounters with chemistry will be enjoying a glass of wine while I write the post.

Until next time!



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I’m a wine enthusiast. The more wine I drink, the more enthusiastic I get.


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