The Journal / Breath

Gone With the Winds

Assemblage

New Issue, new ‘assemblage’ - this time, a bit more airborne. Winds can turn rain to sun. But do they also have an impact on wine? From the Tramontane to the typhoon, let’s meet those who blow over and across our estates.

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Even when a vintage is well-aerated, it’s rarely described as “windy”. Yet, a wine is made in a land influenced by the wind, as much as it is by local topography, sun exposure or soil composition. A wind, whether it originates from the sea or from the desert, has a direct impact on vines – and more broadly, on a vineyard.

People talk about wind in terms of seasons, climates and hemispheres. It’s depicted as an arrow, going from one cardinal point to another, crossing a ‘wind rose’ – which strangely resembles the logo of Domaines Barons de Rothschild Lafite. The wind – or winds, as there are many of them – herald storms, fair weather, or nightfall. They hasten a harvest, arrive without warning and depart just as quickly. Their names also change, depending on the region or the century.

Under such conditions, who would presume to be capable of mapping out the breath of the wind? We’ll take our chances… so let’s take off, into the air around the globe, across our states !

Autan, the Sailor

One of our wines is named for this wind : the “Altan d’Aussières”. Crafted in  Domaine d’Aussières, this wine showcases the emblematic grape varieties of the Corbières region, such as Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. These grapes are meticulously picked on the foothills that separate the estate from the Mediterranean sea – where the Autan wind originates. Like all marine winds, the Autan brings freshness and humidity. When favourable, Autan significantly helps the vine’s growth. While in spring, it can gently moisten the vines with a fine drizzle, by the end of the summer, it can bring challenges to the harvesters. Balance is crucial! It’s important not to confuse the “Autan” with the “Marin” wind, the latter bringing a greater load of humidity to the same land.

Panoramic view from Domaine d’Aussières
“Altan d’Aussières”, which was named after the Autan wind

Tramontane, the Unyielding

In opposition to the Autan, the Tramontane blows from the northwest. This wind reigns over Aussières – unleashing a cool, sometimes fierce wind all year round, testing our team’s nerves. For every 15% of marine wind, we estimate 70% of Tramontane – leaving 15% for calm. This oscillation of winds brings a perfect balance between hot and cold, dryness and moisture, fostering the complexity of Aussière’s wines. While a dry wind tends to concentrate a wine’s aromas, a humid one deepens its fruity nuances.

View of Domaine d’Aussières

Western wind and Southern wind, the Allies

In the Sauternes region, where Rieussec lies, another duo of winds plays a game of hot and cold: the oceanic west wind and the south wind. They alternate, influencing air circulation and humidity in the vineyards. Generally, a dry wind prevents fungal diseases by drying the leaves and grape bunches. But sometimes, mould can be noble… for example, we need the fungus Botrytis Cinerea in order to produce quality sweet wines – its presence is encouraged by the alternation between morning humidity and sunny periods. And it is the winds that enable the contamination process: once the fungus has penetrated the grape’s skin, the variation in temperature induces the mould. Thus, the winds are crucial for the magic of Rieussec’s microclimate to unfold. As soon as the right balance between sugar and acidity is reached, we need to harvest the grapes quickly – before the next gust of wind.

Botrytis on grapes
View of Rieussec

Sirocco, the Formidable

A desert wind in our vineyards? As improbable as it may seem, since 2022, this dry, hot wind has blown several times on Château L’Evangile, located southeast of the Pomerol plateau. It carries sand, giving brick-red tones to the sky – and triggers a heatwave that can dry out the vines and cause considerable damage. Fortunately, an oceanic breeze invariably arrives to counter its effects.

View of Domaine de Long Dai

Typhoon, the Unpredictable

At Long Dai, on the Shandong peninsula in the Qiu Shan valley, typhoons pay a visit to the vineyards between the end of July and the beginning of August. Sometimes short and intense, at other times spread over several days, they bring coolness and rainfall. But no forecasting model can predict how much rain will fall in which location. Vigilance is paramount during this time of the year, in order to protect the vineyard and prevent water from damaging the terraces. Once the typhoon has left, a gentler summer wind shows up to dry the leaves, and ward off vine diseases.

Punta de Lobos in Pichilemu, near Vina Los Vascos

Viento del Sur Oeste, the Peaceful

Even if you don’t speak a word of Spanish, you’ll probably guess the direction of this wind. It blows from the southwest onto the Chilean Estate of Viña Los Vascos, originating from the Pacific Ocean – a direct consequence of Easter Island’s anticyclone. When it passes through the leaves of the surrounding birch and eucalyptus, it calls the end of the day. In September, during the national festivities, one can admire kites dancing and mingling on the Matanzas and Pichilemu beaches, with clouds stretching endlessly into the horizon. Very intense between the end of March and mid-September, it accompanies the vines from flowering to harvest, protecting them from excessively high temperatures. The freshness of Los Vascos’ wines confirms its influence. The Viento del Sur Oeste also maintains the natural acidity of the grapes and reduces the risk of vine diseases.

Zonda, the Spirited

When it clashes with mountains, a sea wind can change completely. Such is the case with the Zonda, a wind originating from the Pacific Ocean that blows over the Argentinian lands of Bodegas CARO. Laden with humidity, at one point, it brutally collides with the Andes Mountains – which peak at Mount Aconcagua, over 6.900 m high. There, it lets go of all the rain it contains. And when it descends the other side of the mountain, it becomes particularly dry, hot and powerful.  This phenomenon is known as the Foehn effect. Legend has it that the Zonda was created by Pachamama, mother nature, to punish a presumptuous young man who dared to address the gods as his equals.

The Zonda is characterised by its sudden onset and variability; if it blows before bud break, it won’t cause significant damage. However, a later Zonda is formidable: it accelerates the process of evapotranspiration, which dehydrates vine leaves and causes micro-perforations that hinder photosynthesis. To protect our plants from these risks, minimising direct exposure to the wind is crucial. Hence, the strategy of vine placement becomes essential.

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