Ten top cool climate locations

Published by Sally on May 24, 2016

The International Cool Climate Wine Symposium runs from May 26th to 28th, 2016. Here’s a piece I wrote in the lead-up to this four-yearly event.

A shorter version of this article was first published in March 2016 at The Drinks Business

Growing season temperature (GST) does exactly what it says on the tin. It is the average temperature for each month of the seven month growing season (October to April in the southern hemisphere; April to October in the northern hemisphere), divided by seven.

Dr. Greg Jones, professor of environmental science and policy at Southern Oregon University said “GST came about because most of the general public and even many in viticulture and wine production either do not understand what growing degree days (GDD) truly are or how to appropriately calculate GDD or compare values. GST is basically simple to calculate, is a temperature, and is correlated at the 99% level with GDD.”

Jones defines ‘cool climate’ as being 13 to 15°C GST, whilst Dr. Andrew Pirie, owner of Apogee in Tasmania, and also researching into GST, defines it as 14 to 16°C, with 13 to 14°C as ‘very cool’. Definitions are a work in progress. And with climate change, GSTs are a moving feast.

Are these the top ten cool climates?

Rank Region/Country GST Plantings Main cultivars
1 Ruwer 13.8 ~ 8,800ha, including rest of Mosel region 60% riesling, 12% Muller-Thurgau; 6% elbling
2 England 14.1 ~1,500 ha 21% chardonnay, 19% pinot noir, 9% Bacchus
3 Tasmania 14.4 ~ 1,800 ha 44% pinot noir; 23% chardonnay; 12% sauvignon blanc
4 Champagne 14.7 ~ 35,000 ha 38% pinot noir; 32% pinot meunier; 30% chard
5 Kremstal 14.7 ~2,400ha (plus Wachau and Kamptal at ~ +/- 0.1°C variance) Combined: ~7,400ha50% gruner veltliner; 13% zweigelt; 11% riesling
6 Central Otago, NZ 14.8 ~1,950ha 77% pinot noir; 12% pinot gris; 4% riesling
7 Switzerland 14.9 ~14,800 ha 29% pinot noir; 26% chasselas/gutedal; 9% gamay
8 Okanagan, BC, Canada 15.1 ~3,500 ha 15% merlot, 10% pinot gris,  8% chardonnay 7% pinot noir
9 Rheingau 15.2 ~3,200ha 79% riesling; 12% pinot noir
10 Marlborough, NZ 15.4 ~23,200ha 77% sauvignon blanc, 11% pinot noir, 5% chardonnay



Mosel, Germany

Including its tributary rivers Saar and Ruwer, this is classic cool climate territory. Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt has vineyards in all three river valleys. Annegret Reh-Gartner said “Cool climate wines have always more playfulness, balance and elegance. The main reason is that the plant struggles more to ripen. In our region the slate soil adds to it as it is pretty poor in nutrition and the roots have to go deep down, 7-15 m depending on age, to find enough nutrition. This gives them more subtlety and many different aromas. The long ripening season of the cool climate – 120-150 days between flowering and harvest – adds to the aroma and vibrancy of these wines.”

Ruwer, she added “is generally cooler as there are no forests on top of the slopes to protect against cool winds, [which] you have on Saar and Mosel.” Slopes are key this far north (in the northern hemisphere); steep slopes concentrate the sun’s rays.


Still pretty new to the world stage, yet regional differentiation is already moving up the agenda. The country’s first (modern era) vineyard, in 1952, was Hambledon, in Hampshire. Managing director Ian Kellett said of the country’s burgeoning (from a microscopic base) sparkling wine industry “we could have done [sparkling] fifty years ago. In 1952 Hambledon made still because of cashflow. [But] having had Nyetimber demonstrate you can successfully make sparkling wine, what’s happening now is professionally planted vineyards, with winemaking teams and investment teams.”

He continued “Champagne has left the door wide open on quality because you have the vineyard on one side and houses on another … houses don’t get the best juice.” Following the opposite ‘estate’ model, he said “Hambledon’s plan is to grow all our own grapes on our own vineyard land, all on chalk. Chalk matters to the way in which acidity deploys across the palate.”


Dr. Andrew Pirie, owner of Apogee and ‘founding father’ of the modern Tasmania wine industry said “Tasmania offers a range of cool climate winegrowing areas. Cool climate suits the fab varieties like pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay”, which in Tasmania are used to make still and sparkling wines.

Pirie said “currently 14-16°C is my COOL climate definition range which approximates to the best regions for pinot noir especially. The warmer Tassie regions are typically 15.3-15.6°C (Tamar, Coal River) with 15.2 -15.4°C being the sweet spot for pinot noir table wine (Central Otago, East Coast Tas., Burgundy).

“Pipers River/Pipers Brook [the sub-region where Apogee is located] is 14.5-15.2°C depending on altitude which equates to Reims (14.3°C) Damery (14.5°C) and Dizy (15.2°C) so this is fizz country.

Demand for Tas is likely to increase as Pirie highlighted “Tasmania has 1% of Australia’s land area but has 13% of its rainfall – this plus the cooling proximity of the Southern Ocean will make it one of the cool, well-watered climate regions of choice as they become rarer on the planet.”


Quintessential cool climate sparklers, where, thus far, climate change is not (yet) a negative, even though the season is shortening. Philippe Wibrotte, PR manager for the CIVC said the appellation has “gained 1.5°C over the past 20 years, but we’ve never seen so many great vintages as in last 20 years.” He added “we used to have 100 days between flowering and harvest; now it’s 94-96.”

Denis Bunner, Bollinger’s assistant chef de cave gave historical context, saying “Champagne made a weakness [low maturity grapes] into a strength. In the past 10° potential alcohol was not enough, it was 8.5° in cold years, so it was not a good climate for still wine, but is a good climate for sparkling wine.” explaining that in the region “we don’t search too much aroma or roundness; we search more fine, subtle and fresh notes. The climate allowed sparkling wine with this profile of grapes especially on chalky soil. Excess water could be a problem in a cool climate where you can’t wait for maturity, [but] in chalky territory there is less disease because of the drainage it provides.”

Wachau, Austria

Roman Horvarth MW, the winery director at Domäne Wachau said “GST is quite similar at around 14.7°C in Krems (Kremstal), Langenlois (Kamptal) and Dürnstein (the eastern end of Wachau). However in Wachau it becomes lower the further west we get and on the most western edge of Wachau at Spitz it drops to around 14.0°C.”

He said the Wachau region’s “three-tier system with steinfeder, federspiel and smaragd follows an idea of different picking times. This makes sense in a cool climate and is kind of insurance. Every year typical, authentic wines can be offered: in very cool years more steinfeder and federspiel and in warm years more federspiel and smaragd.”

Steepness of slope is important in Wachau which, he said “increase the power of sun energy. Plus we have the moderating Danube. And we have rocky soils (gneiss) that store and reflect heat – however these soils are also a limitation because of their low water holding capacity.” Further microscopic detail is added with “high altitude versus low altitude, valley floor versus terraces, cool pockets, etc. In the coolest pocket, the Spitz Valley, in the 1950s and 1960s mostly zweigelt, neuberger and Müller-Thurgau were planted because grüner veltliner and riesling didn’t ripen. Today with climate change the Spitz Valley is absolutely fascinating for our two major varieties.”

Central Otago, New Zealand

Felton Road’s winemaker Blair Walter says using a single index of climate doesn’t provide the whole picture: “our GDD summations show that we are similar to Champagne and the Mosel but the ripeness and sugar levels that we can easily achieve in pinot noir, for example, would suggest we are quite different. We have up to 40% higher UV levels in NZ compared to similar latitudes in Europe so this will clearly be playing a part in the way the vines grow and fruit ripens.

“We also experience considerable extremes even in the middle of summer. For example, in January (equivalent of northern hemisphere July) we have had up to five snowfalls on the surrounding mountains (1,400-2,000m). Almost every growing season we would experience snowfalls on the surrounding mountains throughout January and February. These temperature drops have a moderating and calming effect on the 30-35°C days we would normally experience during these periods”. He added “It is not uncommon to have 20 to 25°C diurnal shifts in the lead up to and during harvest. It’s like ripening the grapes in warm, bright sunshine and then putting them in a fridge at night. I believe it seals in varietal character, fruit intensity, colour and acidity.”


With steep slopes, and the large lake Léman, Switzerland’s vineyards have many mesoclimates. Jean-Marc Amez-Droz, the general secretary for the country’s generic body, Swiss Wine Promotion said “The coolest areas are in the highest vineyards. The coolest climate is mainly in Valais, because we’re really in the Alps.” This region accounts for a third of the country’s plantings.

Even in this region, he added “It’s not so easy to say this part is cool climate and this is warmer. They vineyards are all planted on different altitudes – from 500m at the level of the river Rhône, up to 800m, which is quite cool. At these highest spots in the Valais, typically traminer” is planted.  Though pinot noir and gamay, used to make the noted blend ‘Dôle’, are the most widely planted cultivars in Valais.

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

The north-south Okanagan valley stretches some 120 miles, between the 50° and 49° latitude north, with “desert conditions in the south and cooler climate as you head north” said Laura Kittmer, media relations manager for the British Columbia Wine Institute. Lake Okanagan reduces frost risk in the northernmost sub-region of West Kelowna/Kelowna, and here the top cultivars are recognisably those of cool climates: pinot noir, gewurztraminer and riesling. By comparison the southerly Black Sage-Osoyoos sub-region has temperatures not dissimilar to that of the Médoc or Napa Valley.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery is one of a handful that have a sparkling wine focus. Their CEO, Ezra Cipes said their “Kelowna vineyard is largely dedicated to sparkling wine, and our prestige cuvées are always sourced from this estate vineyard.”

Icewine is also made in the Okanagan valley. Every year, Kittmer said. “Icewine harvest in the Okanagan can begin as early as November or as late as January with temperatures averaging between -8°C to -14°C.”

Rheingau, Germany

Steep, south-facing slopes comprise the classic image of Rheingau, and these help deal with the “cold temperature and, potential high risk for late frost” said Theresa Breuer, of Weingut Georg Brueur.  “What actually happens” she said “especially in the steep segment of the region is that the sites located at the bottom of the slope, next to the Rhine river, are getting slightly too warm to grow elegant riesling in the warm vintages … the best spots are ‘moving up the hill’ in those vintages.”

Such shades of cool are highlighted on the 33 ha property. Breuer said “during the picking period we can be busy with picking riesling for about four weeks, which tells you something about the diversity of ripeness due to the different terroir constellations we have in our fields. In the cooler vintages we get the best grapes off the 100% south facing steep slopes; in the warmer years we prefer the higher plots and the slightly east facing slopes.”

And, in the last 20 years she added, “apart from at Assmannshausen, pinot noir is coming back [having first been planted 900 years ago] … reaching a serious quality level.”

Marlborough, New Zealand

Marlborough’s developing sub-regions provide ample evidence that a single GST for an entire cool climate region is a broad measure.

The Southern Valleys are a series of valleys perpendicular to the (original) Wairau valley at its southern, cooler, side, extending into the marginal northern slopes of the Wither Hills. Sam Weaver, of Churton Wines, which sits at 200m asl, said “Waihopai is the biggest of the southern valleys, with the most potential. But vineyards are frost prone, and water availability is an issue.”

Cooler still is the Awatere valley – all the way over the Wither Hills range to the south. Jason Flowerday of Te Whare Ra (based in the Wairau valley) said “we work with an Awatere grower – it’s cooler and drier than in Wairau. Sauvignon blanc ripens more slowly, with elderflower, currant, more citrus and ripe acidity.” Even the Awatere has variances. Jeff Fyfe, general manager, winery operations, at Yealands Family Wines said “we are at the cooler end of Awatere [right on the coast]. It’s more herbal. And it’s windy. We have poorer flowering which reduces crops.”


2 Responses to “Ten top cool climate locations”

  1. Wink Lorch Says:

    Fascinating piece, thank you. But in the intro you mention the 7 months of the growing season, taken to calculate GST, but in the northern hemisphere you cite April-September, just six months… Should it include October or March? Thanks.

  2. Sally Says:

    Thanks Wink! That was a bit of a basic typo. April to October. Now corrected.

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