River Wine Regions: How rivers shape the world’s wine regions?

When you travel to different wine regions, you may notice that many of them have one common feature: a river. While this makes for a picturesque setting that enhances the tasting experience for tourists, it is also a crucial factor for viticulturists. The presence of a river can be the key factor between producing high-quality wine that you would add to your collection, or ending up with a low-quality product that could only be used to make vinegar!

How did it all start with planting vines along rivers?

For thousands of years, people have¬†been settling¬†near water sources for various reasons, including natural resources, agriculture, and trade. And wherever humans go, wine is sure to follow. As Roman legions travelled through Europe along the Rhine and Danube rivers, they planted grapevines that eventually became the foundation for some of the continent’s top wine regions, including Alsace, Mosel, Pfalz along the Rhine, and Wachau in Austria along the Danube.

Mosel Valley

What do rivers do for grapes?

The Moderator

Rivers have a significant impact on surroundings, they act as a heat reservoir in colder regions and cool the area in warm regions by carrying away the heat of the day. In simpler words, they help to maintain a milder climate and smaller temperature range, creating a safe and consistent environment for vines to grow.

In cold areas, rivers keep the area warmer for longer since water retains heat longer than soil or air. When the sun sets, water acts as a hot water bottle, slowing the cooling process and keeping the area warm.

In warm areas, rivers create diurnal shifts in temperature in river valleys. For instance, in central Spain, overnight temperature drops help to slow down the ripening of grapes and retain a balanced level of acids.

A body of water can also indirectly contribute to the prosperity of surrounding vineyards by regulating wind, which can either cool down or warm up the vineyard with natural force!

The Modeler

When it comes to landscapes formed around rivers, the surrounding riverbanks and valleys formed over millions of years have a unique advantage – slopes!

A great example of explaining the influence of vineyards on flat lands vs slopes is Burgundy. Although not the whole region is situated next to a river, most of the vineyards of Burgundy are planted on gentle slopes. The soil on the highest slopes has a thin topsoil and receives the least rainfall during the growing season. The middle to higher part of the slope receives the most exposure to sunlight and has the best drainage, so they are designated as ‘Grand Cru’ vineyards. The Premier Cru vineyards are below Grand Cru vineyards on the slope, while the Village and Region wines are produced from the flatter areas, having diluted levels of sun exposure and poorer drainage.

The Reflector

Vineyards planted on the banks of rivers enjoy an additional benefit -the reflection of sunlight and heat.

This reflection effect is especially helpful in keeping the Mosel Valley of Germany warm in this cool climate region.

Famous river regions in the world

Some of the world’s most renowned wine regions¬†are¬†situated¬†along rivers such as the Moselle, Sa√īne, Rh√īne, Douro, Gironde, Margaret River, and Loire. These rivers do more than¬†just¬†serve as a picturesque backdrop¬†but¬†they play a crucial role in the production of our favourite wines.

Fun facts about river wine regions

Languedoc-Roussillon is home to eight major rivers that aid agriculture and viticulture, including the famous River Rh√īne and the Aude River¬†which¬†flows from the Pyrenees through the historic Carcassonne before finally reaching the Mediterranean Sea. It is also the largest region in the world!¬†For millennia, these rivers have¬†channelled water from the green mountains down to the hot, dry lowlands.

Not just about geological factors, rivers also play a vital role in a wine region’s history!¬†

Stellenbosch,¬†the second-oldest town in South Africa, was born along the Eerste River.The¬†town¬†was founded on the banks of the Eerste River in 1679 and¬†was named¬†after the Governor, Simon van der Stel. He is also known for founding the wine estate of Constantia! Soon after the town’s establishment, the French arrived in the Cape in the 1690s and began planting vines in Stellenbosch. From there, the region has constantly expanded¬†and¬†today, Stellenbosch is home to almost¬†a fifth of all the vines planted in South Africa.

This is not to say it is impossible to produce wine in areas where rivers are not present. Regions which are notoriously dry, such as La Mancha in Spain and Mendoza in Argentina, still manage to produce quality wines. However, the presence of a river makes it easier for winemakers to maintain consistency between different vintages. This ensures that the label can be relied upon, rather than being known for only having the occasional excellent year.

This Blog post is written by Sharon Wong
Consumer Sales and Marketing Manager of Wanderlust Wine 

Sharon is the the driving force behind our website, wine club, marketing activities, and Wanderlust Wine events. 

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