Wine Articles

Wine Articles --> A Little Stress is Good

A Little Stress is Good
...for grapevines, that is

Doug Badenoch, owner of the Wine Gallery in Bozeman, Montana, ran this in his newsletter last week and I liked it so well I asked to borrow it for ours...

Almost everyone is familiar with Nietzsche's observation that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Too much stress leads to high blood pressure, a depressed immune system, depression and all that is a good recipe for an early death. The stress we get from moderate to strenuous exercise makes our muscles work better, our cardiovascular systems work more efficiently, and protects us from obesity and diabetes. A little stress is good.

The same is true for grapevines. It seems odd that all of the world's great vineyards are in climates that are in some way marginal. If the level of stress, (lack of water, sun, or nutrients) doesn't kill the vine, an endurable amount of adversity forces grapevines to struggle and adapt.

Some of this is an evolutionary adaptation to keep the species alive. When resources are scarce, the plants are forced to concentrate their sugars in a smaller number of grape clusters. The evolutionary strategy is to nurture and protect the smaller number of seeds for the next generation. Fewer and smaller grape clusters ripen more evenly and result in wines of great character and concentration.

Look at the Columbia Valley in Washington State, for instance. Cold winters and dry summers make this area a near desert. This climate is consistent so when the cold winter is over, bud break comes at the right time and the crop ripens slowly and evenly. Grapevines also flourish here because growers are able to drip irrigate the rows of vines. This allows the vines enough water to survive, but still be stressed by the hot sun. One of the reasons Washington State wines are so good is that growers manage the stress on the vines so grapes can be harvested at the height of their physiological ripeness.

Jug wines are usually made from grapes that have had the life of Riley. No one has reduced the size or number of the clusters or stressed the vines with meager water rations. The result from these spoiled brats is wine of little character and remarkable blandness. Just like artists, comedians and musicians, suffering makes wine more worthy of our attention and appreciation. The hard work they all did to survive makes them bold and memorable. Think about that when you take your next sip.