Learn about the history and character of some of the world's greatest wine regions and get some travel inspiration for 2017. All the photos below are taken from the 'Joy of Terroir' pages of Decanter magazine and featuring stunning shots of vineyards from heady heights of Argentina to the heart of Champagne.
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Clos Ste-Magdeleine, Cassis
Clos Ste-Magdeleine covers 20 hectares on the southwest coast of Provence in Cassis, one of France’s oldest appellations. The estate has belonged to the Zafiropulo family since 1920, and its Art Deco villa can be seen to the right of the vineyard, alongside vast cellars dating to 1850.
Pictured are vines of Marsanne, Ugni Blanc, Clairette and Bourboulenc vines, aged between 15 and 40 years old. These are blended to create the estate’s dry white, which expresses the strong minerality of the limestone soils and a fresh salinity from the Mediterranean breezes. Clos Ste-Magdeleine’s beauty was recognised by director Jacques Deray, who chose it as the setting for part of his 1970 gangster film Borsalino, starring Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo.
La Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa
Torre de Oña, a 4.25-hectare Tempranillo vineyard, sits at 575m above sea level on a east-facing limestone and sandstone slope. The ragged Sierra de Cantabria mountains to the north work as a natural barrier, protecting the vines from the cold and wet northerly winds formed over the Bay of Biscay. A Foehn effect is produced, where the rain-laden clouds cause precipitation on the northern slopes, sliding over the crest to reach the water-starved vines. Since 2005, La Rioja Alta has been using satellite images to identify various sub-plots in its vineyards and then making and ageing wines from each plot separately to further enhance the terroir quality in its wines.
Perched a dizzying 2,300m above sea level in Argentina’s Salta region, Colomé owns the world’s highest-altitude vineyards and winery. Bought by Hess Estates in 2001, Colomé’s plantings cover 75 hectares of the Colchaquí Valley. Incredibly, vines have been planted here since 1831, when the Dávalos family brought pre-phylloxera French varieties to the estate. Colomé today has plantings of Malbec and Torrontés, and focuses on premium wines made biodynamically.
Pictured here are 13-year-old Malbec vines, planted between the blue-roofed winery (visible in the background) and the cardon cacti and lavender bushes of the estate’s gardens. Sandy loam soil and large rocks provide good drainage and intensify the sun’s heat, while the extreme altitude leads to strong sun exposure and a sharp drop in nocturnal temperatures.
Wallis Vineyard, Lokoya Estate, Napa
Lokoya Estate’s Wallis Vineyard covers six hectares of the Diamond Mountain District, an AVA in California that sits along the Mayacamas mountain range in the northwest of Napa Valley.
The vineyard was planted in 1997, mainly to Cabernet Sauvignon plus some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, and since 2014 its fruit has been sold to Jackson Family Wines, used in its Lokoya collection of Cabernet Sauvignon wines. The location, at 180m to 240m above sea level, lessens the impact of the cooling fog that seeps along the valley floor, and increases the vines’ exposure to sunlight. The volcanic and loamy soils, meanwhile, are porous enough to prevent conditions becoming too warm and provide good drainage, giving the resulting wines rich flavours and soft tannins.
This photo shows the Douglas fir and redwood trees that border the Wallis Vineyard and which populate the Diamond Mountain District AVA, whose name derives from the shards of reflective volcanic glass found in the soil.
Château Margaux, Margaux
After a summer rainstorm, a double rainbow shines over Château Margaux’s L’Eglise and Jean Brun Est vineyards in the commune of Margaux, 30km north of Bordeaux city. The two vineyards are to the southwest of the first-growth estate; the château itself is hidden behind Margaux’s iconic church (pictured), which sits at the border of the 2.4ha L’Eglise vineyard. Planted in 1953, this plot of Merlot has some of the Margaux’s oldest vines, producing wines of depth, finesse and power, evoking the clay and gravel soils. Jean Brun Est, in the foreground, is 1ha and planted in 2000 with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Steingarten Vineyard, Barossa
Jacob Creek’s Steingarten Vineyard stretches across 3.6 hectares of the undulating Barossa Ranges. Since 1962 it has been planted with Riesling vines, and those original vines still make up two-thirds of plantings. The name Steingarten translates to ‘stone garden’, and rocks cleared from the site have been used to build the white viewing platform to the left of the vineyard.
The pale gold grasslands surrounding Steingarten barely cover the punishingly dry schist rock soils beneath. In the 1960s the tough conditions forced workers to cart water up to the vineyard, 450m above sea level. The hardy vines planted here express the arid, cool-climate terroir, as they are low-yielding and produce concentrated fruit. The resulting wines have great longevity and exhibit an intensity and minerality typical of the Australian dry Riesling style.
Ayala, Chouilly, Champagne
This is the grand cru vineyard belonging to Ayala, a Champagne house in the area’s old capital, Aÿ. In the winemaker’s revolt of 1911 all the winery buildings were destroyed, but by the 1920s Ayala had recovered and produced more than a million bottles per year. After World War II many of its vineyards were sold, but it was bought by Bollinger in 2005, with the intention of restoring its former glory.
The 40-year-old Chardonnay vines thrive in the belemnite chalk soil, which allows the roots to dig deeply for nutrients and retain moisture. This prized limestone terroir contributes characteristic high acidity, freshness and intensity to the Chardonnay grapes, as well as a creamy delicacy to the wines.
Coffele, Castel Cerino, Soave Classico
The 10.2-hectare Castel Cerino vineyard sits at the highest point of the Soave Classico region, at 350m above sea level. The Garganega vines, some of which are 70 years old, thrive on this hillside, which offers them a long exposure to the sun with strong winds to ward off diseases.
These ideal conditions enabled the Coffele family, which owns and farms this site, to become the first Soave Classico producer to be certified organic in 2014. The mostly white, chalky, water retaining soils of the DOC are complemented by the volcanic, basaltic soils at the highest point of this vineyard, which add structure and body to Soave Classico’s famous crisp and elegant white wines.
Mission Estate, Awatere Valley
The stark dryness of the Awatere Valley in New Zealand’s Marlborough region is evident in the patchwork of Mission Estate’s Cable Station Road vineyard. The coastal location of Awatere experiences an extreme climate with very cool, dry and windy growing conditions. Lots of daytime sunshine but lower night-time temperatures create a perfect diurnal climate for the vines, locking in acidity and freshness in the fruit.
The soils are typically alluvial gravel on windborne loess. Yields are low and the late-ripening crop of small berries produces intense and complex flavours. Mission Estate’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc typifies the pure, mineral and herbaceous qualities from this unique terroir.