For many years there have been discussions whether altitude has a significant influence on the quality of wine. What is a fact is that the higher you go, the lower the temperature, which means a lower alcohol and higher acidity – the recipe for a truly great wine!
Vines are basically a weed, therefore it will adapt to challenging conditions and if planted in fertile and warm conditions, it will grow exponentially however it produces fruit of poor quality in great quantities, more suitable for birds to carry the seeds than producing suitable grapes for the production of high quality wines.
Therefore it is a known fact that the cooler the conditions, the fresher the juice obtained from the grapes will be, which is excellent for the production of fresh dry white wines. Because of the difference in temperature during day and night, the acidity is naturally very high however winemakers still leave the grapes on the vines until they reach full maturity, a process which may be delayed by up to a month in comparison to vineyards at lower altitude. Also because of high altitude, there is less chance for diseases in the vineyard.
Mountain slopes geographically has less fertile soil due to drainage therefore leading to smaller crops and the effect is clearly evident in the wines grown there as the rocky terrain is reflected in the minerality in the wine.
In Argentina, where vines are planted in access of 2000 m above sea level, the vines are subjected to higher UV rays that are thought to be able to better penetrate the skins of the grapes and actually ripen the pips so you end up with more antioxidants, greater colour concentration, riper tannins and increased longevity in the resulting wines. Additionally, the skins grow thicker in response to the UV light and lower temperatures, again allowing richer extraction during skin soaking and fermentation. This would lead to a higher intensity of phenolics, typical of grapes grown in “stressful conditions” such as high altitude, lower temperatures, higher UV radiation and light intensity, less oxygen and carbon dioxide, and shorter growing seasons.
Malbec is especially sensitive to disease in wet, warm climates but in the higher altitude and cooler climate in the Mendoza region, it produces some of the best Malbec wines in the world.
The highest commercial vineyards in the world are located in the Salta region of Argentina, and are produced by the Hess family (also owners of Glen Carlou in South Africa) under the name of Colomé. These vineyards are located at approximately 3011 m above sea level.
The Barranco Oscuro winery in La Alpujarra, one of the poorest places of Spain, has vineyards reaching up to 1368 m above sea level while the Canary Islands, just off the coast of Spain and Morocco, has vineyards reaching 1700 m. There are also vineyards in China reported to reach 2000 m above sea level.
Barranco Oscuro vineyards
• South Africa:
In South Africa Mount Sutherland owned by Daniël de Waal from Super Single Vineyards Company in Stellenbosch, is located at 1500 m above sea level approximately 350 km inland. There the production is only about 3 tons to a hectare but he produces some excellent wines, most notably a Riesling in the style of a true German trocken. Cederberg Private Cellar has some of the highest vineyards in the Western Cape at between 950 and 1100 m above sea level. Owner and winemaker David Nieuwoudt proudly produces “wine with altitude” in this pure, disease free environment.
Mount Sutherland vineyards
Cederberg Private Cellar vineyards
Here at Restaurant Mosaic we strive to always be in sync with our winemakers, local and abroad, keeping astride of their viti- and viniculture as well as the influence of the terroir on their wines, therefore we have a clear understanding of the magic of “wines with altitude”!