Top 10 extraordinary vineyardsBy Lauren Eads
From ash-strewn craters in Lanzarote to the near vertical slopes of the Mosel, these vineyards push the boundaries of viticulture to their limit.
Operating on the fringes of traditional winemaking, most of these vineyards are commercially tiny.
Others have defied the odds to produce wines on a commercial scale working impossibly challenging vineyards.
Stretching the limits of climate, geography and expectation, these vineyards are a testament to the explorative and adventurous spirit of their owners, adding a welcome splash of colour of the world of wine.
Click through for our round-up of some of the world’s most exotic, unusual and ambitious winery projects in the world…
10. Lerkekåsa Vineyard, Gvarv, Norway
The northernmost commercial vineyard in the world, Norway’s Lerkekåsa is in the apple-producing village of Gvarv near Telemark, (59°40′N; 09°19′E). The vineyard was founded in 2007 by Joar Sættem and Wenche Hvattum, who planted their first grapes in the spring of 2008, with Solaris their grape of choice. A white variety, Solaris was created in 1975 in Germany by Norbert Becker, who crossed the variety Merzling (Seyve-Villard 5276 x (Riesling x Pinot gris)) as mother vine with Gm 6493 (which is Zarya Severa x Muscat Ottonel) as the father vine.
“The soil in the area is rich in minerals from the melted water of the glaciers at Hardangervidda”, says the pair. “The beautiful landscape around Norsjø was created through the melting of the glaciers from the interglacial period some hundred thousand years ago. This makes the soil profile, in which we grow our grapes, very fertile. Located in a small valley in close connection to the lake of Norsjø makes a great climate for producing a great variety of fruit.”
The vineyard welcomes visitors for tasting and overnight stays, with guests able to stay inside its huge 7,600-litre converted wine barrel, which cosily fits two.
9. DOC Cinque Terre, Ligure, Italy
The spectacular Cinque Terre National Park, stretching 120km along the Italian cost in Ligure, has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1997. It is also home to a unique steep-terraced wine region, which stretches between five fishing villages, comprising the DOC Cinque Terre, which covers 150 hectares. The DOC was granted in 1973 with production limited to the coastal areas of the Cinque Terre in the Province of La Spezia. This covers specifically the communes of Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Monterosso al Mare, Tramonti di Biassa and Tramonti di Campiglia.
The wine is produced from a must containing at least 40% of the Bosco grape, but may also contain up to 40% of Albarola and/or Vermentino and up to 20% of other white-berried grapes approved and/or recommended for the Province of La Spezia.
8. Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant, Olkiluoto, Finland
Not your average location for a vineyard, the Olkiluoto power plant in Finland is home to the northernmost vineyard in the world, however its size means it does not produce anything commercially significant. Its grounds boast a tiny 0.1 hectare experimental vineyard, warmed by nuclear power, that yields 850kg of Zilga grapes annually.
The Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant opened in 1979 on on Olkiluoto Island, which is on the shore of the Gulf of Bothnia in the municipality of Eurajoki in western Finland. Here, temperature can plunge to -5.6C in January, rising to a moderately average 16C high in August. To overcome its climate, water heated by the reactor in the Olkiluoto nuclear power plant is used to create steam to spin the plant’s turbine-generators and cool the reactor. Much of this non-radioactive water is then pumped into the Baltic Sea, however a portion of it is pumped to the vineyard to warm the soil, tricking the vines into believing they are planted in a much warmer climate.
Native to Finland and Latvia, the short-cycle Zilga grape is bred for the colder northern European climate and is said to be able to withstand temperatures of minus 25C.
7. Undurraga, Chile Chico vineyard and Casa Silva’s Lake Ranco vineyard, Patagonia, Chile
The relatively untouched region of Patagonia, at the southern most tip of South America, is one of the newest and least explored wine regions in the world. Shared by Argentina and Chile, the region comprises the southern section of the Andes mountains as well as the deserts, steppes and grasslands with two coasts; a western one towards the Pacific Ocean and an eastern one towards the Atlantic Ocean. Patagonia is much cooler than the more northern wine regions Chile and Argentina, both countries, making it perfect for the cultivation of cooler climate grapes such as Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Chile’s most southerly vineyard is owned by Undurraga and is located 1,250 miles south of Santiago. At 46 degrees latitude, the planting – which is in the Chile Chico region – is 1 degree further south than Central Otago. This makes it not just Chile’s most southerly vineyard, but the most southerly planting in the world, according to its head winemaker, Rafael Urrejola. Chile Chico (Spanish for Little Chile) is a town in General Carrera Province, Aisén Region, Patagonia, Chile.
Casa Silva however holds the title of most southerly planting in commercial production, with its Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot vineyards on the shores of Patagonia’s Lake Ranco, 600 miles south of Santiago at 40 degrees latitude.
Further north, on the easter side of Patagonia, lie the Argentine winemaking provinces of
6. Rangiroa vineyard, Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia
Vin de Tahiti is French Polynesia’s only wine label, with its vineyard planted on the island of Rangiroa, in the Tuamotu Archipelago, to the north of the region’s biggest island, Tahiti.
Located in the south Pacific, the Tuamotu archipelago in French Polynesia includes over 100 islands and atolls (a ring-shaped reef, island, or chain of islands formed of coral) and is more than 5,000km from the nearest continent.
Known as “the island of immense sky”, Rangiroa is one of the largest atolls in the region, with its vines are planted at the end of a road lined with coconut trees just yards from its tropical seas. The eight hectare vineyard currently produces 40 000 bottles per year comprising a number of white wines (blanc sec, blanc de corail and blanc moelleux) and a rosé (Nacarat).
Irrigation is made possible by wells dug at the lowest point of the plot that reach the water table. More crucial for winemakers working here is the vine’s natural cycle given that the Polynesian climate does not include a cold season. The time of blossoming, maturing and harvesting is therefore determined by the level of sun exposure and the pruning carried out, rather than the changing seasons. Pruning kick starts the vines cycle, two harvests per year (May and December), referred to as austral winter and austral summer harvests.
5. Sahara Vineyards, Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt
Located near the ancient city of Luxor, Egypt’s Sahara Vineyards is a contender for one of the most inhospitable vineyards in the world. The 600-acre vineyard, overseen by Karim Hwaidak, is subject to extreme changes in temperature from day to night, a complete lack of rainfall and desert sand absent of nutrients.
Despite this, it cultivates 30 different grape varieties, including Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Grenache Noir. The team fertilises the sand with 30 tons of compost per acre and uses drip irrigation to control the vines’ growth.
4. Hua Hin Hills Vineyard, Siam Winery, Thailand
The most unusual aspect of this winery is its workers, at least to western eyes. The Hua Hin Hill vineyard on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Thailand employs a team of elephants to tend its vines, owing for spectacular scenes across its vineyards which back onto forest-covered mountains.
Grapes picked from the Hua Hin vineyard are used to produce Monsoon Valley Wines, which is owned by Thailand’s Siam winery, one of the country’s biggest producers. The Hua Hin vineyard was planted in 2004 on a former elephant corral where wild Asian elephants were domesticated by their keepers. Siam Winery started developing the Hua Hin site after successfully experimenting at the nearby Royal Research Station at Huay Sai in 2003.
A working vineyard, it also welcomes visitors who can dine al fresco and take a ride through the vines by elephant.
3. Volcano Winery, Hawaii
The Volcano Winery on Hawaii was founded in 1986 by retired veterinarian, Lynn “Doc” McKinney, who planted 20 Symphony grape vines in the lava-covered land in the foothills of Hawaii’s volcano at 4,000 feet.
The vineyard was first planted with Symphony, a white cross of Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria. McKinney soon began experimenting by growing tropical fruits such as starfruit, lilikoi (passion fruit) and papaya and blending them with the wine to create a tropical range of fruit wines. After several years of experimentation, the Volcano Winery opened to the public in 1993, offering a selection of its unique wines for sale.
In 1999 the winery was sold to Del Bothof, with Del’s son Scott today its general manager. A fire in 2000 destroyed much of the winery’s original Symphony vines, which were replaced with French-American hybrids Marchael Foch, Chambourcin and Cayuga White, as well as Pinot Noir. In 2006 the winery began growing tea plants (Camellia sinensis) to use in their newest wine Infusion – a “tea wine” made using their Macadamia nut honey wine and black teas.
2. Bremmer Calmont, Mosel, Germany
Believed to be the steepest vineyard in Europe, Bremmer Calmont is a single vineyard in Bremm on the Mosel, Germany. Its vines are planted at a perilous 68 degree angle, making harvest time a hair-raising endeavour. Mostly Riesling is planted on its 33 hectares, with harvesters scaling the vines using a network of chairs on rails.
The vineyards are currently tended by Walter J Oster, which produces a dry Riesling from the vines. The mineral-rich shale soils of this vineyard are said to create fine fruity Riesling wines with “filigree and fine fruity nuances”, according to its website, with “mineral aromas” that become more intense with age.
1. Bodega La Geria, Lanzarote
With its black-ash landscape Bodega La Geria, within the 5,225 hectare La Geria national park, is perhaps one of the most striking vineyards in the world, and most unusual due to its harsh environment and volcanic landscape. The last volcanic explosion took place here from 1730 to 1736, leaving the land a permanent shade of black thanks to the amount of ash spewed from the earth.
Bodega Le Geria was built in the late nineteenth century by the family Rijo. In 1993 it was acquired by its current owners, the family Melian. Here, bush vines are planted in individual craters dug out from volcanic soils and ringed by tiny walls (Zocos) to protect the grapes from the island’s from extreme summer winds, which also protect a layer of “picon” (black cinders) that are spread on the surface. Combatting the region’s lack of rainfall, the layer of picon is able to store night time humidity and transfer it to the vine’s roots to water the vine and encourage growth.
Malvasia, Merlot, Shyrah, Tintilla are common varieties grown here, with the winery producing a range of dry and sweet wines.