Across the globe, there are a number of well-established vineyards successfully able to grow grapes at higher elevations. Situated on the slopes of the surrounding mountains, these vineyards find ideal climate and soil conditions for planting and growing grapes.
At upper elevations, the significant cooling elements affect the flavor of the grapes. Especially along coastal ranges, a low pressure area is formed when the sun heats the air in the valleys below, allowing the heavy, cooler ocean air to move inland. This cool air steadies the daytime temperatures in the area, and helps to create warm days full of sun and cool nights, perfect conditions for grape vine growing, and production of the highest quality wine grapes. In addition, a meteorological syndrome called the "lapse rate," which corresponds to the elevation of the vineyard in relation to the height of the mountains surrounding it affects the climate. When the peaks above the grapes are much higher, one can expect much cooler air, at the rate of 3 degrees per each 1,000 feet in altitude gain, to flow down the mountainside at night, keeping the cool nighttime temperatures that are so critical in the development of outstanding grapes. In contrast, the mountain slopes often have very warm temperatures during the day in summer months, helping the grapes to ripen fully. This variation from warm to cool causes the grape vines to struggle to survive, which creates the acidity needed to produce such intense colors, flavors and tannin.
Most vineyards that are planted on mountainsides are dealing with either a granite-based soil, or a volcanic rock and ash combination. Because grape vines require soils that are well-drained, either granitic or volcanic material is ideal for growing quality grapes. While the vines may be happy with the ground conditions, it does present some additional considerations for the grower. Most vineyards construct drains, water runoff bars, ditches, water catch basins and holding ponds, which help to keep the rains from washing away what little topsoil is present. Furthermore, jute materials and thick-rooted cover crops are essential to help retain the soil and prevent erosion. Expert grape growers will all agree that difficult conditions for the vines create the best grapes, so the gravel, rocks and lava found on the mountain slopes are credited for contributing to some of the best wine produced. Some vintners that grow grapes at higher elevations believe that the rocks absorb the day's heat, and help the grapes to continue to ripen throughout the night.
The Whole Picture
Growing grapes on the slopes of mountains paints a beautiful picture. The orderly rows of vines and trellises, contrasted with the richly colored organic mountain soil is a sight to behold. Very few crops would survive, much less thrive here, but grapes growing at higher altitudes has been proven to be a winning venture.