Cool climates making cool wines: How cool climates and high elevations became the hottest trend in wine

I speak to a lot of winemakers who are doing something interesting, something unique, and sometimes even a little bit avant-garde. Even though they are all so different, there are occasionally a few trends that crop up amongst them. One thing I have noticed from winemakers to wine writers, and now wine drinkers, seems to be that everybody is hot for cool climate wines. So why is everybody talking about cooler climates? And what does it do for me? 

So what are cool climate wines?

Cool climate wines are andy wines grown in a cooler climate where the average temperature during the growing season is a brisk 55 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. These climates tend to favor more delicate grapes, like a lot of white wines and some light and medium-bodied red wines. Grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling, for example, are grapes that prefer cooler climates, however, some grapes like Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon will struggle to produce and ripen in colder climates. 

The Russian River Valley may be in California (a state known for its warmer climates) but it is famous for its cooler climate that produces some exceptional, and elegant, wines.

The Russian River Valley may be in California (a state known for its warmer climates) but it is famous for its cooler climate that produces some exceptional, and elegant, wines.

What effect does the cooler climate have on the grapes?

Grapes that are grown in a cooler climate, and the wines made from them, tend to be more delicate than your warmer climate wines. White wines tend to be much lighter, leaner, and with crisp bites of citrus and a good dose of minerality like flint and limestone. Red wines tend to also be lighter, but also aromatic and more elegant. Our friends over at Teutonic Wine Company put these words on every wine label "old and cold, high and dry, wood and wild" and the first part really tells you everything you need to know about why they do it. The grapes can hang on the vine longer, allowing them to ripen and draw their flavors from the soil, not from the sun. 

Take a Pinot Noir, for example, wines which are always heavily affected by climate. Comparing warmer climate and cooler climate Pinot Noirs can be a lot of fun. You'll find that cooler climate Pinot's from Burgundy, for example, tend to be either earthy and rustic or light and zippy like from Oregon and New Zealand. Warmer climate Pinot Noirs from Argentina and California tend to feel like they are jam-packed with fruits like cherries, plums, and anything else the heat can get in there. 

What makes cool climate wines awesome?

We see and hear it a lot. Folks saying they really like drinking cool climate wines, or winemakers saying they just love what a cooler climate does for wine. With the grapes spending a longer amount of time on the vine and drawing in the characteristics of the soil, it makes cold climate wines a real treasure for those who obsess over terroir. With the wines taking on earthy and mineral characteristics more often than not these wines come across as being special and complex. 

Does that mean that wines from warmer regions are less complex? No, just in a different way. Wines from warmer regions are very upfront with their fruit flavors and carry a complexity of their own. In a great wine, you really get a sense of place, and that can make the difference to you. That wine from a cooler climate is going to be much more relaxing, cozy, and elegant. You can imagine yourself wearing a light jacket as you sip away.

What are some awesome examples of cool climate regions?

Classic cool climate regions in Europe are known for being home to some of the most famous grapes in the world. These grapes define the region as much as the region defines the grapes. Places like Burgundy and Mosel are known for their elegant Pinot Noir and Riesling wines respectively.

There are a few cool climate regions in the new world that are producing wines of note as well. In the United States, Oregon and Washington are well known for their cool climates that make understated, elegant, and super drinkable wines. 

What about extremely cool climates?

Naturally, with any trend, and also thanks to Global Warming making a lot more countries suitable climates for growing grapes, we are starting to see some extremely cold regions pop up in the wine world with some amazing wines. 

Places, where others might never have thought to grow grapes, are making waves in the wine world. In the US in particular, with wineries in all 50 states, states with some frigid winters are exploding with delicious wine. Places like Michigan, Maine, Vermont, and even Minnesota are pumping out wines that are balanced and elegant.  

What more is there to say? Cool climate wines are really cool right now!