Microclimates, Italian Varieties and Wine: Some thoughts after 40 years of winegrowing in Paso Robles
by Dave Caparone
Microclimates are geographical areas that provide a specific amount of heat for vines during the growing season. The fruit of each grape variety matures properly in a specific microclimate or within a range of related microclimates. Proper maturation provides good balance and varietal character.
Some varietes such as Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon seem to work well over a wider range of microclimates. Others, such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Aglianico do not. In the Paso Robles region, Zinfandel will mature properly in places where Sangiovese, Aglianico and Nebbiolo do. Zinfandel will also mature properly where there is not enough heat for Sangiovese, Aglianico and Nebbiolo.
If a grape variety is grown in an area that is too warm for it, the wines produced will lack balance and proper varietal character. If the area is too cool, it may not reach full maturity at all. Antinori's planting of Sangiovese at Atlas Peak is an example of the latter.
In considering the range of heat requirments for red varieties, Pinot Noir probably requires the least heat, while Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Aglianico. require the most. Other varieties fall somewhere in between. Heat requirements are inherent in the grape and are the same whether the grape is grown in California or Europe.
Since we have been able to produce wines of equal quality from Sangiovese, Aglianico and Nebbiolo grown at the same location, these varieties have the same microclimate requirement. Our vineyard is located in one of the warmest parts of the Paso Robles appellation. I think it is safe to say after several decades of experience that this is a proper microclimate for these varieties. Logic would lead one to believe that where one can be successful, the other two will be also. I believe the same thing holds true for them in Italy, even though Italian law would not permit such plantings.
Microclimates exist within climates. In terms of achieving proper grape maturity, they are only as reliable as their climates. In California with its lack of rain duing a long growing season, there is very little annual variation. In all my years of winemaking I have never had to work with grapes that were not fully mature. In Europe, the situation is much more variable and grape maturity is an ongoing problem. No grape variety is inherently difficult or tricky, although weather and climate often are. Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Aglianico are as easy to grow in our vineyard as Zinfandel. Difficulties can arise because a variety has not been planted in a proper microclimate or because there are significant annual climate deficiencies.
STYLE AT CAPARONE
Our interest is in varietal wines. Throughout our winery's history, we hve never blended a single wine. We want wines with good balance, distinct varietal character and that show complexity and restraint. We also want to produce wines which will develop in the bottle for decades.
We look for balanced grape maturity to acheive our goals. We have found over the years that balanced maturity always occurs at moderate grape sugar levels which, of course, means wines with moderate alcohol levels.
In California and sometimes in other places it is possible to leave the grapes on the vine past balanced maturity without fear of damage from the weather. When this happens, wine sensory characteristics along with alcohol levels and balance change. Many wineries today prefer this style of wine.
In order to help achieve balance and complexity, we leave each wine in contact with the grape skins for four to six weeks before pressing. This softens the tannins and adds to the overall balance of the wine. Each of our wines then receive two full years in the barrel and are not fined or filtered.