Keeping Cool in our Local Wine Climate 

Photo of Brent Lello - Yass Valley Wine Advocate

Brent Lello Yass Valley Wine Columnist

You may have noticed the signs on the side of the Barton as you approach Murrumbateman, proclaiming that we live in “Cool Climate Wine Country. ”  I am sure that many people ponder this to be a most intriguing if somewhat unlikely proclamation, given the extreme heat conditions during summer in the Yass Valley region.  In winemaking terms though, our region is indeed a cool climate.  How is this so?  Well, fundamentally and without getting too technical, due to our geographical location, while we have very hot days during the vine’s growing season, we also have relatively cool nights.  We have a large diurnal temperature variation here, which is the temperature difference between the hottest and coolest parts of each day.  Wine grapes ripen vigorously during the heat and concentrated sunlight of the day, but the ripening process slows during the night as the mercury drops.  

There are many cool climate wine regions across Australia.  These areas are generally either low in latitude or high in altitude.  In NSW, in addition to the wine regions around Canberra which sit at about 600 meters or even more above sea level, other cool regions include nearby Tumbarumba, Hilltops (Young), Southern Highlands and Orange further to our North.  By comparison, the Hunter Valley in NSW and the McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley regions in SA are considered to be in the warm climate spectrum.  Wine grapes in these warmer regions are harvested as early as January and February, compared to much later in the growing season for our region which can start in March and April.

Anyway, what does all this mean for the local wine drinker?  Cool climate wines can differ markedly from wines made from the same grape varieties from warmer climates.  Wines from our region can be more moderate in alcohol due to slightly lower sugar levels leading to more subtlety in the mouth.  They might also show higher levels of acidity which can result in the wine being elegant, refined and delightfully balanced.  Cool climate wines can also be spicier and more florally fragrant than counterparts from warmer climates.  To highlight these differences, let’s take a look at Shiraz.  You will find on most occasions that a Shiraz from the Yass Valley region will be medium-bodied with red and blue fruit flavours like red currant, red cherries or blueberries with white pepper, allspice or star anise.  A shiraz from Barossa, on the other hand, is likely to be fuller, richer and juicier in style and show flavours of dense, fully ripe dark fruits.

We are fortunate to live in one of Australia’s premium cool climate wine regions, so take the time to savour these delights, they really are Cool!