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Can You Measure the Quality of a Vineyard?

You’ve heard it from so many Italian wine producers…

The quality of the land has a huge impact in the quality of the wine. The terroir has been romanticised for centuries and every producer will tell you that their land imbues unique qualities into the wines that they produce.

Of course, the natural conclusion from all of this is that the quality of the land has an impact on the quality of the vines that grow from it. And surely, this means that the best wines come high-quality vineyards.

All very natural conclusions…

But then you realise that people don’t tend to talk about measuring the quality of the vineyard when they talk about Italian wine. Yes, the land itself gets a lot of airtime. But when it comes to the vine, we rarely look beyond the type of grape that the vine produces.

So, that brings us to the question that we aim to answer in this article.

Can you measure the quality of an Italian wine by measuring the quality of the vineyard?

And the answer’s yes…with a couple of qualifiers.

To explain, it’s important to understand what Italian wine producers look at in their vineyards.

The Metrics That Matter

There are a few metrics and qualities that will affect the perceived quality of a vineyard.

Coming back the idea of land being a key factor, we have a few issues at play here. Firstly, the soil composition may be a factor in terms of the taste of the wine that you drink. 

For example, have you ever had an Italian wine grown in a volcanic region? Typically, such wines have a mineral taste to them that you don’t find anywhere else.

That’s because volcanic soil is richer in natural minerals than any other type of soil. 

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that volcanic soil is better than other soil compositions. In fact, you might even argue that it’s worse if you don’t enjoy your wines having a mineral taste.

The point is that the soil has an effect on the wine. And by extension, that means it has an effect on the vineyard and the overall quality of the grapes produced.

Another key factor that comes into play here is how the producer treats their land.

There’s been a definite move towards organic and biodynamic growing trends in recent years. Those who adopt these trends argue that they’re better for the land. After all, the land gets to keep more of its natural qualities and doesn’t get depleted by man-made chemicals constantly getting absorbed into it.

Furthermore, these more “natural” winemaking techniques also contribute to a healthier ecosystem surrounding the vineyard.

The conclusion here is that healthier land leads to stronger and healthier vines. And the result is that the wines that come from these vines are of a better quality.

At least…that’s the assumption.

While it’s pretty much a given at this point that organic and biodynamic techniques are better for the health of the land, we can’t say for certain that they affect the quality of the vine. Or at the very least, we can’t say that the vine will produce a better grape because of these techniques.

After all, there’s many an amazing wine out there grown on land that doesn’t make use of organic and biodynamic techniques.

So…that idea still hangs in the balance. Although there is a stronger argument to make that organic and biodynamic wines are more natural wines. Whether being a fully natural wine equates to higher quality is really up to you.

Finally, you have the effect that the land has on the quantity and quality of the grapes that are produced. 

Generally speaking, heathier land will lead to stronger and more potent grapes. The vines get all of the nutrition that they need from the soil, which means that better grapes come from them.

The problem is that it’s not the land alone that affects the quality of the grape…

There Are Other Factors at Play

We believe that you can certainly measure the quality of a vineyard.

You can check the soil’s composition and determine the vineyard’s quality based on several factors, such as presence of chemicals and soil types.

However, you cannot assume that a healthy vineyard alone will lead to the production of a quality wine. There are so many other factors at play that have an effect on the end product.

The winemaker’s production techniques is one of them. A wine aged in an oak barrel will have a very different taste to one aged in a metal barrel, for example. Everything related to how the producer processes the grapes can have an effect on quality.

You also have factors that are outside of the producer’s control, such as the weather.

Generally, a winemaker will always take the local climate into account when choosing which types of vines to plant. However, adverse or unexpected weather conditions can wreak havoc on the vine. An extended dry period will damage both grape and vine if they’re not suited for warm weather conditions.

Of course, a long frost will cause damage to vines that do best in warmer climates.

In these situations, it doesn’t really matter how good the land is. The weather will wreak such havoc that the vines still can’t reach their full potential.

The Final Word

So, we come back to our original question.

Can you measure the quality of an Italian wine by measuring the quality of the vineyard?

We still believe that you can…to an extent.

A producer who takes good care of their land will generally produce better wines than a producer who doesn’t. Furthermore, the makeup of the land will have a definite effect on the vines planted in it. The great producers know which vines grow best in which soil compositions.

However, there are factors beyond the quality of the vineyard that have an impact. Production methods and weather are two of them and each could ruin a wine from an otherwise healthy vineyard.

HIGHLIGHT

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