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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Does high altitude have a physical impact on vineyards and the quality of grapes, other than the effect of the accompanying climate?
—Todd P., Concord, Calif.
Altitude in and of itself doesn't seem to affect the quality of grapes, but one of the few things you can get winemakers to agree on is that higher altitudes are cooler. If you want to give your grapes a long growing season, head up the mountain to get a cooler climate and longer hang times. Of course, if you go too high, your grapes won't ripen properly. If you're talking about mountain or hillside vineyards, it's also important that some slopes get more direct sunshine than some valley floor vineyards.
Is there anything else to it? I asked Paul Draper, the winemaker of Ridge Vineyards, who makes his living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Draper said that in addition to climate, mountain vineyards have different soils. They tend to be less rich and more rocky, which leads to more stress for the vine and lower yields. This can affect the intensity of the final product, although, Draper says, it still varies from place to place.
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