New Latitude Wine: Surprising Wine Regions

You’re probably familiar with Old World and New World wines, but have you heard of New Latitude Wines? Wines from Brazil, Thailand, India, Vietnam, but also Norway, Sweden or England fall under this category. What are they? Let’s explore!

What Is New Latitude Wine?

The grapevine thrives in temperate climates between the 30th and 50th parallel of latitudes in both hemispheres. These two narrow bands on the map are shifting, however, and global warming only partly explains why. Higher temperatures have made grape-growing possible at higher latitudes: just look at England, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, even closer to home in Nova Scotia! But there’s more and more winemaking at low latitudes as well, even in tropical conditions. Together, these “new” wine regions fall under “New Latitude Wines”. 

Let’s have a closer look at how it has become possible to successfully grow and ripen grapes in conditions previously deemed “unsuitable” for viticulture. We’ll also zoom in on a few of these countries.

How Do Grapes Grow in Extreme Environments?

Hybrid Grape Varieties

To a large extent, we can grow and ripen grapes outside of the “traditional” latitudes thanks to hybrid grape varieties. Hybrids are crossings of two grapes of two different vine species, and they are more resistant to fungi, phylloxera and other diseases and pests. They also tend to ripen earlier. 

For decades, these hybrid grape varieties had one major drawback: they had a rather unpleasant taste with aromas of wet dog and chewing gum (yuck!). However, the newest generation of hybrids are actually hardly distinguishable from the “classical” grape varieties.

Innovative Viticultural Practices

New hybrid varieties have made it possible to grow grapes in wetter, cooler or hotter climates, but advanced viticultural practices are equally important. Carefully timed irrigation, as well as different vine pruning or training techniques all determine whether grapes can successfully grow in a certain climate. In tropical countries, for instance, the grapes are usually pergola-trained, so that the canopy of grape leaves protects the grapes from the scorching sun. We’ve become better at adapting the vine to its environment, which can provide lessons for current wine-growing regions that are dealing with the effects of climate change.

Winemaking in Cold Countries: High Latitude Wines

If you decide to start making wine in a cold and wet climate, you definitely have to like a good challenge. For starters: getting a grape perfectly ripe is really difficult. The weather is pretty much always unpredictable. As Canadians, we are pretty familiar with these crazy weather patterns – from frost in June, to hail, to an early freeze in the fall. All of these are huge threats (not just to our outdoor activities!).

Your best bet in colder climates is to produce sparkling wines (a strength of the English wine industry, for example), as well as crisp white wines. A bright acidity and relatively low alcohol content are hallmarks of wine from colder regions (not unlike their cool climate counterparts). 

Wine of Nova Scotia

A great high latitude example close to home, Nova Scotia has a small, but interesting wine industry. Here, 20+ vineyards are clustered around the Gaspereau Valley, in the Annapolis Valley. If you happen to be in the area, take a tour through this historical region on a magical double-decker bus straight out of Harry Potter!

The Bay of Fundy is crucial in successfully growing grapes here. The large body of water acts as a heat sink, moderating the temperatures. The wineries have mostly hybrid grape varieties planted such as L’Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc or New York Muscat. Vinifera grapes grow here as well, such as Chardonnay and Riesling. Most production is consumed locally, but outside of the region you might be able to find a great sparkling wine. (Get it, you won’t be disappointed!)

New Latitude Wine: A Vineyard at a Fjord in Norway

Norwegian Wine

In Norway, grapes are commercially grown as far as 59º N! Lerkekåsa takes pride in being the most northerly vineyard in the world (For comparison, that’s pretty much on the border of Alberta and the Northern Territories). The country has a short growing season, with threats of late spring frost and heavy rains. However, the long summer days are great for ripening grapes. The fjords also help, reflecting the sunlight back onto the vineyards, and the mountains accumulate heat and provide good drainage. 

Norway grows predominantly white grapes, with Solaris, Vidal, Bacchus and Riesling as some of the common grape varieties. 

Winemaking in Tropical Countries: Low Latitude Wines

Until 30 years ago, the grapevine was deemed unsuitable for cultivation under tropical monsoon conditions. Today there exist some 125,000 ha of vines in India and South-East Asia alone!

Tropical viticulture comes with its own set of challenges. There’s the constant heat (25–35°C) during harvest and fermentation – making it necessary to cool grapes down in the winery, before they are processed. 

Wine growers need to select their grape varieties carefully: they need to be able to ripen even with shorter sunlight days, with a high fungus and waterlogging resistance. 

The biggest difference between tropical and regular viticulture is that there is no dormancy period of the vine. Immediately after harvest, the growing cycle starts again. As a consequence, quality-conscious vine growers need to prune twice a year: after harvest and right after the Monsoon before a new growing season starts.

New Latitude Wine: a vineyard in Thailand

Thai Wine

Thailand defies the notion that viticulture is only possible between the 30th and 50th parallels, since it is located around the 15th parallel. There are two harvests: a summer harvest in July and August and a winter harvest in January and February. 

The wineries are located in three areas: 

  1. Northern Thailand: Chenin Blanc, White Malaga, Shiraz, and the indigenous grape Pok Dum are mainly planted on the high vineyards in northern Thailand. 
  1. Central Thailand: The second area is Khao Yai on the Korat Plateau in Central Thailand, where vineyards are located at some altitude to take advantage of the wind and some cooling at night. Shiraz predominates here. 
  1. Southern Thailand: Not far from Bangkok is the Chao Phraya Delta. This is the home of Siam Winery, producers of Monsoon Valley, the biggest player on the fledgling Thai wine scene. 

Siam cultivates grapes on “floating vineyards”. Between the cultivation of coconuts, rice and bananas, you’ll find rows of vines between narrow channels, intended to drain water.  The manual harvest usually takes place in the evening, with gondola-type boats transporting the grapes to the cellar. Chenin Blanc is made in a fruity style here. Sometimes it has some residual sugar, so it fits well with Thai cuisine and tastes. The Shiraz is full and round, yet not particularly complex. 

Siam was founded in 1986 by Chalerm Yoovidya, whose family is better known for inventing the energy drink Krating Daeng or Red Bull. They also produce grapes in the Hua Hin Valley, where Asian Elephants and lush green hills form an uncommon vineyard sight.

New Latitude Wine: A vineyard in India

Indian Wine

In the immense country of India with its 1.3 billion inhabitants, the wine industry is relatively small. Currently, the per capita annual wine consumption is about 9 milliliters! With an ever-growing middle class and a more liberal attitude of the Indian authorities, the domestic wine market is growing. 

India’s modern wine industry started with pioneers in the 1980s. Sula Vineyards, now the country’s largest wine producer, entered on the stage in the 2000s. About 100 wineries produced around 17.6 million litres in 2019. Most wine that is consumed in India is also produced within the country, since import duties are sky high.

Much of India is unsuitable for viticulture: it is way too hot and too wet in the summer months. Most viticulture is concentrated in two states: Maharashtra and Karnataka, where higher altitude regions offer the grapes some more coolness. In India, the vines are often horizontally guided in a pergola style, so that the grapes are protected as much as possible from the bright sun. Irrigation and frequent pruning are necessary.

Explore New Wines

Before you run to your local wine store to pick up a bottle of Thai wine, we should point out that you won’t easily find these New Latitude wines outside of their country of production. That means you probably won’t come across them in our WineCollective packages either. Still, we do want our members to realize how vast the world of wine truly is. As you learn more about wine, you realize there is so much else to discover! 

So, even though you may not be able to track down a bottle of Vietnamese wine or Swedish wine unless you take a trip to these countries, you can still surprise yourself! Try a wine from a grape variety you’ve never heard of before. Maybe seek out a bottle from a wine region that’s new to you. And while you’re at it, consider becoming a member of WineCollective and receive new and familiar, but always amazing wines to your doorstep each month!

Wine 101: What Makes Red Wine Red?

You probably have a basic understanding of how wine is made (if not, here’s a primer). There’s one huge difference between making white wine and red wine: for red wine the juice needs to sit with the grape skins, seeds and stems for some time to extract colour, flavour and tannins. This is also called maceration. In this article, we’ll look at some of the techniques winemakers apply to macerate wine. Or, plainly put: to make red wine red. 

Where Does the Colour in Wine Come From? 

Think about it, if you squeeze a red grape, the juice that comes out is clear. And yes, it is possible to make white wine from red grapes. (There are a few red–fleshed grape varieties, called teinturiers, but they’re really rare.)

six wine glasses with different shades of red wine

What Makes Red Wine Red and White Wine White?

When you make white wine, the skins usually don’t sit with the juice, or just for a short amount of time before pressing. For red wine, the anthocyanins (what gives the wine its colour), flavour compounds and tannins need to leach from the grape skins, seeds and stems via maceration. This is sometimes done before, but mostly during and after the fermentation process. 

For a winemaker, it’s important to know what technique to use, depending on the type of red grape and the style of wine they’re going for. They don’t want to over-extract, which can lead to harsh, even bitter flavours in the wine. Over-extracted wines have a lot of colour, but also a lot of tannin, making them taste astringent and unbalanced. 

Extraction during Fermentation

Most often, extraction happens during alcoholic fermentation, where the alcohol and heat produced act as a solvent. However, when grape skins, seeds and stems are in contact with the grape “must” (grape juice), the carbon dioxide that is produced during fermentation pushes these solids to the top of the vat, forming a floating “cap”. This cap needs to be carefully managed, not only for extraction, but also to prevent it from drying out (and spoiling!). Breaking up the cap also helps in dissipating some heat that is created during fermentation.

The two most common cap management techniques are:

  • Punching Down

The cap is broken up and submerged with a special tool. This “pigéage”, or punching down, is typically done by hand and happens a few times a day. 

punching down the cap in making red wine
  • Pumping Over 

The French call this technique “remontage”. Red wine is pumped off from the bottom of the tank and then splashed back over the cap. 

pumping over red wine
  • Racking and Returning

“Délestage”, as the French call it, is a two-step process. It involves draining off the wine must from the solids (racking). The liquid is then returned back to the fermentation vessel, re-soaking the solids. This oxygenates the wine, making it less astringent. Racking and returning is a method to extract loads of colour and flavour at once.

The choice (and frequency) of the technique generally depends on the style of wine. While punch-downs are used for lighter wine styles, pump-overs are used to create bolder, more extracted wines. 

What is Cold Soak Maceration?

Some winemakers decide to extract colour, aromas and flavour before fermentation. This is called “cold soaking” or “pre-ferment cold maceration”. 

It requires keeping the must at a low temperature after crushing the grapes, so that fermentation doesn’t kick in. Winemakers use cooled fermenters or dry ice, and it’s common to add sulfur dioxide at this point to prevent microbial activity. 

The idea behind the technique is that, before any alcohol is formed, there is a better aqueous extraction of anthocyanins (colour), as well as aroma and flavour compounds, without extracting tannins, which mostly happens during alcoholic extraction. Cold soaking temperatures range from 5 to 10 ºC. The time can range from a few hours to a couple of days – depending on the style the winemaker is going for and the grape variety. Pinot Noir sees a lot of cold-soaking, as this grape variety tends to give off little colour during maceration. 

The origins of the practice of cold-soaking actually lie in making white wine, where it’s used to get some aromas and flavours from the skins – without extracting phenolics and bitterness. 

As it seems that there are as many different opinions as there are winemakers, some say this technique isn’t very efficient or effective. They say that vigorous pump-overs or punch-downs are much more effective to extract colour. 

crushing grapes barefeet

But Grape Stomping Is Extraction Too, Right?

There is another technique that you might associate with “making red wine red”: good old grape stomping. Crushing grapes barefoot, also known as grape treading, is a very traditional practice. In the Douro region in northern Portugal, this technique is still used to make some of the best port. Port wine requires an intense, but careful extraction, which is hard to achieve with machines. Foot-treading is a labour-intensive (not to mention messy and exhausting) process, so these days you’ll be most likely to find it as a fun activity at wine festivals and fairs.

So, there you have it: next time you pour yourself an almost inky Malbec, you know it probably had quite a few pump-overs. Or when you read “cold soak” on a California Pinot Noir label, you can confidently explain what it means to everybody who wants to know (and doesn’t).

Watch this space for more interesting insights into winemaking, or learn more about viticulture, grape varieties and wine regions. And why not sign up as a WineCollective member? Because nothing beats tasting what you just learned!

Bringing Tradition Back: Amphorae & Eggs

A winemaker has many options for vessels to ferment and age wine in. While you’re probably familiar with stainless steel tanks and oak barrels, you might not know about amphorae – large, egg-shaped clay vessels – that are growing in popularity in recent years. While it might seem a trendy new thing, amphorae-ageing is in fact a practice that dates back thousands of years. Let’s find out what they’re all about.

Various Amphorae lined up in two rows.

Amphorae: What are They?

It is believed that winemaking has its roots in the South Caucasus, known as the Republic of Georgia today. Archaeologists have found seeds of grapes and remnants of clay pots dating back more than 8,000 years. Ancient Georgians used the clay vessels, called ‘qvevri’, to ferment and store wine in. The vessels were usually buried in the ground up to the neck. This was to keep a consistent temperature while the wine fermented.

During the Bronze and Iron ages, amphorae spread across the Mediterranean. They served the Greeks and Romans as a means of transporting and storing wine, olive oil, grains, and other foods. 

Qvevri Amphorae, which is large and rounded compared to its Roman counterpart

Different types of amphorae were used for different purposes. Amphorae used for fermentation were similar to qvevri. These were quite large, and rounded. Buried underground during primary fermentation, the wine would be transferred to smaller amphorae. This was important for transportation and ageing, and smaller amphorae such as the Roman amphorae were used.

Roman amphorae which is longer, and more slender than the qvevri amphorae

Roman amphorae were slender and smaller than their qvevri counterparts. They had slender necks with large handles on their sides to assist with transportation. Another characteristic that stood out were their long and pointed bottoms. These assisted in stacking them, since the bottom of the amphorae would fit into the space between the amphorae necks.

Why are Amphorae Making a Comeback?

Modern winemakers in Georgia were the first to re-embrace their qvevri roots. The practice of fermenting and ageing wine in amphorae was then adopted by a few Northern Italian winemakers who were interested in making minimal-intervention wines. Today, amphorae have spread to winemaking regions across the globe and are no longer only used by natural winemakers. It’s important to note that the practice isn’t adopted on a massive scale or used for mass-produced wines, but it’s becoming more and more common for quality winemaking. Why?

Most importantly, clay (which amphorae are made of) is porous. This porosity allows for microoxygenation to occur within the vessel, aiding in the softening of tannins, and ultimately the development of a more supple and delicious wine.

Secondly, amphorae keep a stable and cool temperature and (due to their clay composition) are neutral in flavour, so it does not impart any flavours like oak does. This allows the wine to slowly evolve, aiding in the creation of fresh and fruity aromas. 

Lastly, the shape of the amphora allows for movement of particles within the wine. The rounded shape is especially important, because there are no corners for wine to collect in. This creates a constant suspension where the wine is in contact with the skins that float on the surface. The shape also allows for the yeast lees and sediment to sink to the bottom of the vessel. 

three ceramic wine eggs lined up next to each other

Wine Eggs: What are they?

Now that you know what amphorae are, do you think you can guess what a wine egg is?

You guessed it! Eggs are another type of vessel used for ageing wine. They are made from concrete, oak or stainless steel instead of clay and yes, they look like giant eggs. While the use of concrete vessels to age wines does go back a few thousand years as well, it wasn’t until 2001 that the first modern concrete wine egg was made. 

Tradition to Trend 

In 2001 Michel Chapoutier, a winemaker pioneering in biodynamic viticulture, collaborated with Nomblot, a French company specializing in creating concrete wine containers. Together, they produced the first modern egg-shaped wine fermenter out of concrete, and from there the popularity rose as Nomblot continued to create these fermenters for other wineries. 

Similar to the amphora’s, the egg’s properties led to its popularity in the winemaking world. 

A concrete egg does not impart any aromas or flavours to the wine in the way that oak does. The concrete provides a neutral vessel for wine to age and develop in, allowing the fruit and terroir to shine within the wine. 

Secondly, similar to clay, concrete is porous and provides the opportunity for microoxygenation to occur in the wine. Similar to how a cork lets oxygen in, the concrete pores allow for small amounts of oxygen to enter the egg, softening the tannins and making the wine more plush. This process happens much faster in concrete than it would in stainless steel eggs or barrels. 

And lastly, the shape! The large egg shape allows for a similar current or vortex to form within the egg like it does in the amphorae. As yeast ferments the wine and increases its temperature, the (already fermented) wine would rise to the top, and the cooler wine sinks to the bottom of the vessel. This allows the wine to circulate throughout the vessel without the need to stir it. 

Concrete and Clay Versus Steel and Oak

It’s likely that concrete and clay are not here to replace stainless steel and oak, there is a change coming as winemakers bring back traditional winemaking practices back in some of their vintages. 

If you’re interested in learning more about wines that are aged and fermented in amphorae and wine eggs, check out wineries like Tenuta Casadei, Chapoutier Winery or even Beckham Estate vineyard that use traditional vessels to ferment their wine. 

And if you’re looking for some unique, tasty and world-renowned wines, be sure to check out our WineCollective member store where you’ll save up to 50% off retail pricing! If you’re not a member yet, what are you waiting for? Sign up for a “no-strings attached” membership that gets you great wine, wine education, recipes, pairings, and other member perks!