In northern California, two well known appellations exist: Napa and Sonoma. They’re separated by a mountain range, the Mayacamas. (The Mayacamas Mountain name is thought to originally means “the howl of the mountain lion.” Lions still do exist on this range, you can be sure of that. I’ve seen my own and was wowed.)

  • Sonoma is closer to the Pacific Ocean, by 30 miles, and has its own Sonoma Mountains range for coastal fog to climb over… And it does, I can attest to that, living in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County.
    • Russian River Valley = Great Pinot Noirs and great Chardonnays
    • Alexander Valley = Great Sauvignon Blancs and Cabernet Sauvignons
    • Dry Creek Valley = Great Petite Sirahs and Zinfandels
  • Next are the Mayacamas Mountains, moving eastward.
  • Next is Napa Valley, headed inland to the east, away from the Pacific Ocean. Napa is still influenced, being only 40 miles from the Pacific. It also is influenced by waterways to the south, via San Pablo and San Francisco bays. Winds deliver moisture from a few important directions.
    • Southern end – Carneros Region = Great Pinots and Chards
    • Middle section = Lovely Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs
    • Northern section = world famous Cabernets
    • A bit generalizing a bit here, but the points are still well taken.
At the estate of the Bordeaux producer.

At the estate of the Bordeaux producer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then there’s Bordeaux, with some places bordering the Atlantic Ocean, where those coastal influences are much more primary. But also consider this, as regards terroir, Bordeaux – as a singular appellation, unlike the Northern California separation, is subdivided by the Gironde River. To the Atlantic’s side is the Left Bank and to the inland side, is the Right Bank. What makes this especially intriguing, besides the years of winegrape growing there is it’s come down to this… If it is a Left Bank wine, it is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon; if it’s a Right Bank wine, it’s predominantly Merlot.

With each day of viticulture, in any winegrape growing region, vignerons (viticulturists) learn by trial and error, which grape varieties grow best in the specific soil and climate of that region. Bordeaux certainly has the edge in history for their varietal grapes and are certainly well over experimentation. Let’s first think about climate’s importance.

Aspects of Terroir

My original story on terroir took a very long time to research and write. In fact, it’s just shy of 1,700 words, and I could have continued to write… But, this is a blog, not a dissertation. So, here’s the link for that story, if you have any interest: Terroir, what’s the big deal? I was very pleased to have Master Sommelier Randy Caparoso comment, “Bravo, Jo… one of the most thorough explications of terroir yet!”

According to climatologist Dr. Mark Greenspan of Advanced Viticulture:

Climate often gets neglected in discussions about “terroir.” People think “soil,” and soil is definitely important. When they think about “terroir, it’s definitely important. Grapes grow in an environment, and the flavors and all the ripening characteristics of the fruit are really linked to the environment; specifically and most importantly it’s about temperature. It’s as simple as that. There are a lot of nuances in temperature. It’s more than what’s the temperature right now? It’s what are the day time and night time differences? How cold does it get at night, how warm does it get during the daytime? And different varieties respond differently to different climates, that’s why different varieties are grown in different regions due to climate and soil.

Add sunlight, temperature, and air streams to this explanation, and you’re beginning to get the point.

Those Who Know the Land Best

Vignerons get “terroir,” for which they – the growers – are also an ingredient. They work with vines each and every day. It’s like the Little Red Hen story. They do all of each aspect, following the outline of The Little Red Hen story:

  • Select the vines
  • Plant them
  • Nurture them
  • Irrigate them (if necessary, and where it is allowed)
  • Train them
  • Trellis them
  • Prune and thin them
  • Net them from birds just before harvest
  • Harvest them
  • And get them to the winery for wine production

What Separates the Grape Varieties?

The Gironde River is the main river in Bordeaux. There are also two smaller rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne, which both feed into the Gironde. These two smaller rivers are shaped a bit like the inside of a peace sign, or upside down “Y.”

  • When facing west in Bordeaux, looking toward the Atlantic Ocean, the “Left Bank” is south of the Garonne and Gironde rivers.
    • The wine must have at least 50 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon.
    • The other 50 percent must contain any variation of the following: Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and/or Petit Verdot
  • When facing east in Bordeaux, the “Right Bank” is north of the Dordogne and Gironde Rivers.
    • The Right Bank wines are Merlot focused.
    • They also a good amount of Cab Franc, some Cab Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and Malbec
  • The area in between the two rivers is called Entre-Deux-Mers (Translated: Between Two Seas).
    • It is a large wine sub-region of Bordeaux in south-western France.
    • Entre-deux-Mers is home to different appellations, known for its sweet botrytized whites of Cadillac, Loupiac, and Sainte-Croix-du-Mont; and table wines of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle, and Ugni Blanc.

Next Monday: Bordeaux ~ Getting to the Bottom of  Left and Right Bank Soils ~ parti six

*Thank you Millesima CIE for the inspiration to learn more about Bordeaux this year. It’s working, but I still need to get to the bottom of it all, the soils.