The History and Culture of Four of the World’s Wine Regions

Strolling through vines in dramatic valleys and tasting both lighter and fuller-bodied wines appeals to oenophiles the world over. From the tart cranberry-like and sweet black cherry flavours to heavy black fruit tastes that linger in the mouth – the aromas, flavours, and aftertastes are as varied as the history and culture of the wine itself. Take Portugal. Port wine and its vineyard area were officially recognised in 1761 and, in California, viticulture began in the second half of the 18th century. To dig a little deeper into the heritage of wine, here’s a globetrotting selection of four wine regions that have lived to tell the tale – from Europe to Asia and on to Canada on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

Rheingau, West Germany

Rumour has it German wines are “light, sparkling and fruity.” And it’s true. Different climates and soil conditions mean that winemakers can produce many regional wines.

Rheingau’s wine regions culture developed splendidly in the 19th century. Under French influence, a quality initiative resulting in good wines happened. The Romans also left their mark between Wicker and Lorchhausen. Particularly the Eberbacher Cistercians, a strict order of the Benedictine rule, built up a system in Rheingau’s viticulture.

Then, viticulture and the wine trade quickly developed into Rheingau’s economic backbone, piquing the interest of the upper class. The monasteries set an example of quality, and the secular winemakers adopted it. Irrespective of the political turbulence in the Rheingau area, viticulture has always been a stable factor.  Tourism was born when mostly English romanticised the Rhine Valley a wine regions.

Part of the Rhine-Main area, the Rheingau is one of the warmest and driest places in Central Europe. Pinot Noir thrives here particularly well, too. A winemaker at Robert König in Rüdesheim am Rhein, Philipp König, says: “I have dedicated myself to Pinot Noir. I cultivate more than 85 percent of this grapevine – along with some Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir.”

Krasnodar region, Kuban, Southwest Russia

Lying between two oceans – the Sea of Azov to the north and the Black Sea to the south – and bordering the Kerch Strait to the west, Krasnodar region sits on the Taman Peninsula. It’s Russia’s sunniest region, located at the same latitude as Bordeaux in France. Thanks to its fertile soil and warm clear summers, Taman’s wine regions culture dates back over 2,500 years, when Greek settlements produced wine there.

The Krasnodar region is home to more than half of Russia’s vineyards. Yet, while there are approximately 20 wineries in this area today, just a few still create authentic wines from their own grapes. One of them is Kuban-Vino, established in 1956, and in 2003 it became part of the Ariant Group. Today, it’s one of the largest companies in Russia that makes both quiet and sparkling wine.

Aleksandr Kretov, wine entrepreneur and managing shareholder of Ariant Group, says: “The most famous, ‘fundamental’ brand of our winery, is the trademark Chateau Tamagne. Monosort wines of this brand are a reflection of centuries-old traditions and a classic reading of varietal characteristics.”

According to Aleksandr Kretov, grape growing and winemaking in Kuban are truly experiencing a renaissance today. Unused vineyard-suited lands are being put into circulation, old enterprises are being revived, new ones are emerging, production is being modernised, and the wine market is becoming ever more diverse.

She adds: “We have taken a big step – moving away from simply satisfying the market’s demand for semi-sweet wines and embarking on a path of producing higher-quality dry wines. Today, we can follow the taste of the consumer while also shaping it, cultivating a drinking culture in the country. In the Krasnodar region, wines are already being produced that are on par with the best global examples in terms of quality”.

Southern Russian vineyards have long been known in the global wine community owing to the region’s unique climate and terroir. There are currently some 30,000 hectares of vineyards.

Khao Yai, Eastern Thailand

Wine culture isn’t deeply rooted in Thailand’s terroir. “On the economic side, high prices of land and some regulatory barriers that are effectively prohibitive – such as excise permits, super high taxation even on domestically produced vitis vinifera wines – play a part,” says Mimi Lohitnavy, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Khao Yai’s Granmonte Co. Ltd.

Thailand’s tropical climate doesn’t exactly lend itself to the growth of vines. Yet while humid tropical conditions have made grape cultivation historically difficult, Khao Yai’s yellow blossom-dominated Asoke Valley has a suitable microclimate with lower humidity and lower rainfall than the country’s average, with a long dry period during winter.

Ms Lohitnavy explains: “These conditions make our region a very comfortable zone for a lot of wine grape varieties. Moreover, the specific pockets of soil we have is loam clay with a base of limestone. Decomposed limestone is red clay. We’re at the foothills of the famous Khao Yai National Park as well.”

GranMonte Estate sits 350 metres above sea level, benefiting from winter temperatures hovering between 10-12 C at night and 20-25 C during the day.

He adds: “Thailand doesn’t have native vitis vinifera varieties. They have to be brought in by us and experimented on our land for years before we can decide on the varieties and specific clones that work. From our climatic conditions and terroir, our whites tend to have tropical characters and reds are characterised by red fruits, leather and earth.”

Asked about a favourite grape, Ms Lohitnavy says: “If we can plug one, it’s the Durif – a variety quite rare even in its native France, known as Petite Sirah in the US and grown some in Australia. A unique and fun red.”

Ontario, Canada

Canadians have produced wine for almost two centuries, but the country’s present prosperity and high-quality vinifera-based wines are barely a quarter-century old. Early settlers had limited success cultivating Vitis vinifera grapes from Europe. Consequently, they concentrated on the natural species, Vitis labrusca and Vitis Riparia, as well as hybrids.

In the early 1800s, European settlers in Canada tried to develop European Vitis Vinifera grapes. But those vines succumbed to pests linked with hot, humid summers. Moreover, harsh winters with bitterly cold air biting people’s cheeks. On the other hand, the local grapevine species that grew freely along bubbling brooks and amid trees that blanketed the wilderness ripened healthily.

While research into the viability of growing Vinifera varietals continued, the Canadian wine industry for the next 100 years was built on grapes grown successfully from native and domestic species, as well as their varieties of American hybrids and crosses, such as Niagara, Duchess, Concord, and Catawba.

Fast forward to today. Canadian wine is predominantly produced in Ontario, Canada’s largest wine-producing province. Ontario accounts for two-thirds of the country’s vineyard acreage and has over 90% of all Canadian ice wines. Canada is the world’s largest ice-wine producer, making more ice wine than all other countries combined.

As the example of winemaker Peter Rotar of Magnotta Winery shows, Canadians enjoy producing sparkling ice wine and iced grappa. “Winemaking for me means the entire activity from the vineyard to the bottle. Being involved in each aspect of winemaking brings me the enjoyment of the final result,” enthuses Peter.


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