The Elevation Effect
Here in Lake County, you will often hear us say we are “higher, drier, shorter and colder.” These are important factors in our high elevation terroir and provide important advantages that most other growing regions do not experience. What does all this mean?
Higher. Being “higher” largely puts the other three dynamics in play: drier, shorter, and colder. It also allows Lake County winegrapes to receive excellent UV exposure. With as much as 10% more exposure than neighboring sea level valleys, increased UV triggers thicker skins, greater tannins, and intense wines with high phenolic content. With vineyards sitting between lake level, at 1,370 feet above sea level, and ranging up hillsides and valley walls to 2,600 feet, Lake County also enjoys clean air. In fact, it is the cleanest air in California.
Drier. As with most higher-elevation regions, our air is “drier” with consistently less humidity. During the growing season, Lake County’s relative humidity on any given day can be half as much as Napa, found to our south. Among other things, this helps stave off rot and, therefore, typically allows growers to use less sulfur and other moisture abatement techniques. This reduces operational cost in the vineyard in addition to helping facilitate superior winegrape quality.
Shorter. Our “shorter” growing season can also be an advantage. Overall, this dynamic limits the amount of extraneous vegetative growth that can contribute to increased pest pressure. Similarly, our “colder” winters kill off many overwintering pests. Both of these factors lead to diminished use of both pesticides and herbicides in the vineyard.
Though our season can sometimes be shorter, our climate enjoys significant diurnal swing. This is due to several factors including our elevation and effects from Clear Lake. Our warm days and cool nights, often boasting a swing of more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit in a 24-hour period, create complex wines with balanced acids and desirable tannins.
In this fascinating interview, Peter Molnar, past Chair of the Lake County Winegrape Commission and General Manager of Obsidian Ridge Vineyard, gives us a deeper perspective on the “Elevation of Wine” in Lake County and its effects on creating superior winegrapes that lead to high-quality wines.