Log In / Join Now

Ask Dr. Vinny

Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...

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.

Dear Todd,

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.

—Dr. Vinny

Wine Basics

We break down the basics—how to taste, serve, store and more. Plus:
» Maps of major wine regions
» Grape variety characteristics

How-to Videos

Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more

Wine Spectator School: All courses are FREE for WineSpectator.com Members

Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.

Browse our course catalog
Check out the professional wine sales and service courses
Learn Wine Forum: Got questions? Get answers

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.