Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

 

I have always been captivated by snow and mountains so when I heard a Spanish wine producer describe his wines as ‘mountain wines’ it was a phrase that immediately seized my imagination.

 

Mountain wines might not have quite the same following as natural wines or be as talked about as cool-climate wines, but for me they have incredible appeal and not just because I’m gripped by mountain fever. They can offer something over and above a cool climate wine.

 

The voice for mountain wines is Cervim (the Centre for Research, Environmental Sustainability and Advancement of Mountain Viticulture) who campaign to safeguard the viticulture landscape and cultural interest of mountain wine growers. They even have a competition, now in its 21st edition but it is yet to breakthrough into the mainstream, at least here in the UK.

 

Talk to most winemakers and you’ll find out they almost all aspire to make wines that speak of where they come from. This is because wine is a product of its environment, not only the climate and soil but also the people, the history and culture of the territory. Wines have traditionally evolved along with the cuisine of a region in line with the populations’ tastes. One could argue that a region’s wines are so interlinked with the regional dishes, matching them is not just a safe bet but an experience. In the same way mountain wines can offer an emotional connection with winter dishes.

 

In mountain regions the grapes ripen and accumulate flavour slowly, they have high acidity giving freshness and they tend to be complex as well as very often mineral and extremely food friendly.

 

Mountain wines benefit from zero pollution (pollution can disrupt photosynthesis and injure leaves, roots and soil, thus affecting the fruit). There can also be benefits from the more intense ultraviolet rays at high altitude. The UV rays encourage the vine to activate defence mechanisms against the sun and the grape’s skin thickens to protect its seed. The thicker skins have more antioxidants, tannins, sugars and polyphenols giving the wines more colour and structure.  The ultra-clean air and fresh water from the snow melt sets up the vine for the growing season ahead, while the cooler, longer growing season is ultimately allows the fruit to reach optimum maturity.

 

On top of the natural benefits you could also argue there is a human benefit, and having lived in the Italian Alps for two winters, I would tend to agree. Making wine in the mountains at such challenging heights, gradients and weather conditions requires a desire to succeed. The tenacity necessary to live and make wine in remote mountain areas guarantees a product made with resilience and a huge desire to succeed.

 

The benefits of snow on vines

  • A thick snow layer protects vines from frost damage during the hard winter months
  • Slow and steady melting, allows water to penetrate the soil, fundamental for the first vine development stages
  • Snowmelt seeps deeply into the soil irrigating even the most deep-seated roots

Wine Hero Producer Profile: Collavini, Italy

 

The Collavini story began in 1896 when Eugenio Collavini started supplying the noble families and wine businesses in the local area.

Throughout the years, the reins have been passed down the generations onto Giovanni and then his son Manlio. Looking beyond Italy, Manlio was one of the first to take Friulian wines abroad.

He was also a strong believer that Pinot Grigio should be fermented off its skins and helped pioneer a style, which is inherently linked to its immense popularity today. Collavini continues to be a family-owned company with forward-thinking ideas.

 

Wine Hero Producer Profile: Antiyal, Chile

 

Antiyal is the passion and vision of Alvaro Espinoza and family.

It was founded in 1996 to teach all that would listen about the earth, work and wine and they have led the way in biodynamic and organic practices in Chile ever since. To this day all their wines are made following these principles.

Alvaro is also one of the first winemakers to use concrete egg-shaped fermenters showing that they are not afraid to be at the forefront of change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wine Hero Producer Profile: Feudi di San Gregorio, Italy

 

Founded in 1986, Feudi di San Gregorio is today the symbol of the renaissance in southern Italian wines.

 

 

 

The company is almost single-handily responsible for the recent increased appreciation of the ancient indigenous varietals of the region such as Fiano, Greco, Falanghina and Aglianico.

 

Much-admired for their attention to detail in everything they do. They have carved out a reputation for making truly world-class wines in less than 30 years. Feudi was voted Best Italian Winery in 2013 by the Association of Italian Sommeliers. 

Wine Hero Producer Profile: Gaia, Greece

 

Gaia Wines was founded in 1994 by Yiannis Paraskevopoulos and Leon Karatsalos.

 

They are the pioneers of the modern Greek wine revolution, making cutting edge wines in both Nemea and Santorini. Their main objective was to showcase to the world the huge potential of the indigenous Greek grape varieties, which they have successfully done and marked out the way for others to follow.

 

Yiannis Paraskevopoulos is known as Greece’s most ubiquitous consulting oenologist and heads Greece’s most prestigious university oenology programme through which a lot of the country’s emerging winemaking talent benefit from his teachings.

 

 

 

Wine Hero Producer Profile: Gérard Bertrand, France

 

Gérard Bertrand was born and raised in the South of France, making wine with his father, Georges, since the age of 10. Over several decades, he has shown strong commitment and passion for producing wines from the diverse terroirs found in the Languedoc region.

As a result, Gérard Bertrand has helped put the Languedoc on the map as a quality, diverse and premium wine producing region, highlighting all that the South of France has to offer.

He has also been a pioneer of sustainable development and is now the largest organic and biodynamic producer in the South of France. In 2012 Gérard Bertrand was awarded IWC Red Winemaker of the Year.

 

Wine Hero Producer Profile: Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, Italy

 

Possibly the most important and best known Italian wine dynasty with over 700 years of history in wine, art, culture and music.

With a firm link to the land, the family is recognised as one of the symbols of Tuscany itself. From introducing international varietals in 1855 to the first Italian-American partnership with Mondavi in 1995, the family has been consistently at the forefront of Tuscan vine-growing for the past 200 years and the emergence of the prestigious Super-Tuscans.

 

Wine Hero Producer Profile: Schloss Johannisberg, Germany

Schloss Johannisberg has 1,200 years of eventful viticultural history associated with it.

 

As the world’s first Riesling estate, it is seen as the creator of ‘Spätlese’ (late harvest) and the first Eiswein.

 

Its colour classifications for their Prädikat wines were used as the basis for the new German wine classification in 1971.

 

Wine Hero Producer Profile: Saint Clair, New Zealand

 

 

Saint Clair Family Estate has been instrumental in raising New Zealand’s reputation for producing world class wines. Owners, Neal and Judy Ibbotson were part of the first group of viticulture pioneers in Marlborough during the 1970s that fought passionately to secure land that offered ideal growing conditions for the production of top quality grapes.

 

After supplying grapes to local wine companies for several years, they established the Saint Clair Family Estate in 1994.

 

Their special grading system and extensive research into identifying the very best sub regions for each grape variety has led the way for ‘terroir’ driven wines.

 

Wine Hero Producer Profile: Carmen, Chile

 

 

For years, Carmenère was a variety thought to have been extinct after the phylloxera plague in the 1860s.

 

The rediscovery of Carmenère at one of Viña Carmen’s vineyards in 1994 has become a real historical milestone for the industry.

 

Since the variety was unearthed, Carmen has become the driving force behind the development of Carmenère in Chile, propelling it to become Chile’s signature grape. They bottled the first Carmenère blend in 1996.

 

Wine Hero Producer Profile: Château Fortia, France

 

 

Château Fortia is one of the oldest estates in the Rhône Valley but it wasn’t until the early 19th Century that then owner Baron Le Roy made the Château’s mark on the history of wine.

 

Le Roy was the co-founder of the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO) who created the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system, which has been adopted in other countries and its impact cannot be underestimated.

 

The embossed crossed keys and papal tiara logo (La Bouteille Armoriee) you find on the bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape was also developed under Le Roy’s leadership by the Syndicat de Chateauneuf.

 

Wine Hero Producer Profile: Hamilton Russell, South Africa

 

 

Tim Hamilton Russell bought a farm in Hermanus in 1975, convinced the region was ideal for a refined style of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

 

But to achieve his goal he had to fight a long, hard battle with the KMV to be allowed to plant new decent virus-free clones in the area. He was eventually successful and created a new wine region – the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – which is now recognised as one of the best cool climate regions in South Africa.

 

His determination to challenge the current system paved the way for the next generation. Sadly Tim Hamilton Russell passed away last year but his contribution to the wine world will endure for generations to come.