Unusual Winetasting Destinations

Travel and wine tasting go together like a horse and carriage. By unusual destinations I mean vineyards that are the most remote and southerly in the world, or the most northerly. There are even equatorial vineyards in tropical lands. Today there is a move to planting vineyards at high altitudes of 1500 to 3000 meters to gain certain advantages.

The most southern and remote wine producing region in the world is at latitude 45 degrees south in Central Otago, New Zealand. This is further south than any vine yards found in Tasmania, South Africa or Patagonia. Pinot Noir accounts for about 85% of plantings; also important are Riesling, Pinot gris and Chardonnay. Climate is semi-continental with hot summers and snowy winters, with yearly rainfall averaging about 500 mm.

The arid schistose Otago region is about 300 meters above sea level and is protected from the westerly weather by the Southern Alps which have peaks to 3700 meters. During the 1860’s it was famous for the alluvial gold rush which followed on from California. Next came sheep farming and fruit growing activities and now grape production. The tourist and ski center is the town of Queenstown located on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, in the lake district. Wine tourism is exceptionally well organized with the larger vineyards offering tours, wine tasting, luncheons and accommodation. Try out a world class Pinot Noir!

The most northerly vineyards in the world are beyond 50 degrees latitude and include southern England and Wales (51 to 53 degrees), and southern Sweden (Gotland & Oland, about 57 degrees). The UK as far north as Scotland has wineries that produce wines from grape juice imported from anywhere in the world, also wines are made from local fruits and berries, such as cider, perry and elderberry. The Swedish vineyards are small family type operations for local consumption and are not of commercial significance.

Wine from vineyards in the UK account for about 1% of domestic consumption. Main problem with grape growing is lack of long sunny periods needed for ripening. During the warmer Roman times grapes were grown as far north as Lincolnshire. Today there are about 350 vineyards in England and 17 in Wales producing mainly white wines, sparkling whites and champagnes, and winning prizes. Notable wineries are Denbies Vineyard in Surrey, Chapel Down Wines in Kent and Three Choirs Vineyards in Gloucestershire, and Sharpham Vineyard (wines and cheeses) in Devon. All these vineyard estates offer tours and wine tasting plus many other attractions for the tourist. They are well worth a visit or longer stay.

Tropical wine regions are those having vineyards within 10 degrees of the Equator. Are there any? Yes, the most successful and productive is the São Francisco Valley wine region in north-east Brazil, at 9 degrees south latitude. It has a unique continental climate that is dry and hot, and requires irrigation. Summer temperatures average 31 degrees and winter 20 degrees C. The region produces very fruity wines from Syrah, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, also whites including Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and other varieties. Wine tours emanate from the twin cities of Petrolina and Juazeiro located on opposite sides of the river.

This semi-arid region has become a prosperous center for irrigated agriculture with abundant water available from the Sobradinha Dam which has produced the second largest artificial lake in the world. Mangos, guavas, bananas, table grapes etc., are exported directly to the US and Europe. The region is well worth a visit by tourists and wine tasters.

High altitude vineyards over 1500 meters (ca. 4500 feet) are essentially cooler climate regions. Every 100 meters can make a difference of 0.6 degrees C in average temperatures. This results in certain environmental changes, such as higher exposure to UV radiation, which have an effect on the ripening process about which much viticulture research is now being done.

The most accessible region is the northern altiplano of Mexico, in the states of Zacatecas and Querétaro, where there are many commercial vineyards at about 2000 meters (6500 feet) above sea level, at about 22 degrees north latitude. Zacatecas, famed as the Silver City, lying at 2445 meters altitude, is higher than Mexico City. This is a great tourist area and wine tasting is the icing on the cake.

Querétaro is the more prosperous of these wine areas producing mainly dry sparkling white wines, plus some Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and various red blends. Querétaro is a well preserved Spanish colonial town having a fascinating history, also it is the home of “Mexican fire opal”. Wine tours can be found at the Tourist Office. Further north is Zacatecas, a beautiful “Silver City” where the Spaniards derived much of their treasure with a few mines still operating. Some old mines offer guided tours. The best known winery is Casa Cachola producing European reds, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, also Zinfandel

The oldest continually operating winery in the Americas is near Parras, a town at 1580 meters altitude, west of the capital Monterrey in Coahuila state. The winery, now called Casa Madero was established in 1597. Daily tastings and tours are given, plus there is a wine museum. Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Syrah wines and fine brandy are produced. Underground streams surface here from the high sierras forming springs used to irrigate the grapevines (= parras), hence the full name of the town “Parras de la Fuente”.

The highest commercial vineyards in the world are in Argentina, near Salta, in the far north west among the foothills of the Andes. These range up to 3000 meters maximum (10,000 ft). These lofty ventures are the work of multi-millionaire Swiss entrepreneur Donald Hess. The Altura Maxima venture is at an altitude of 9,849 feet producing Pinot Noir, Malbec and Torrentés, Argentina’s famous white wine. Part of the business venture is the $5 million Colomé ranch/winery/luxury resort located 80 miles to the south, catering for tourists and wine tasters. You can even try a spa specializing in Torrentés baths followed by a Malbec rub down! What more could you want?

Wine tasting is an activity that enhances the fun and educational aspects of foreign travel, like other personal interests such as music, dance, crafts, architecture, trout fishing, hiking and so on. Wine tasting should not be overdone, but sensibly added to your repertoire of happy indulgences.