While a sunny vineyard sprawling through a wide valley may come to mind when envisioning the place where your bottle of wine originated, high-elevation vineyards tucked away on a sloping mountain-side are increasing in popularity when it comes to elegant and sophisticated Cabernet Sauvignons. As more wine brands boast “high altitudes” and “mountain freshness”, you may begin to wonder what the benefits of high altitudes truly are when it comes to wine making. How does altitude affect the winemaking process and what are the benefits to growing grapes high up in the mountains?
Increase in Solar Rays
An important benefit of the mountains’ high altitudes is the huge amount of direct sunlight that comes with them. Anyone who has hiked up a mountain knows the strength of high-altitude, direct sunlight. The higher you ascend into the mountains, the stronger the sun shines and the more direct, concentrated sunlight the vines will be able to soak up. In fact, the level of UV rays increases over 10% with every 1,000 feet gained in elevation. An increase in sunlight and UV exposure directly affects everything from the color, tannins, and flavor intensity of the grapes.
At 2,400 feet in elevation, the vines at Byrd Vineyard are able to soak up a considerable amount of sun. This persistent sunshine, especially since it is countered by mountain windchill so it doesn’t come with too much heat as it would in the valley, results in grapes with thicker skins, more antioxidants, and bolder flavor. The thicker the grapes’ skin, the deeper the color, more powerful the tannins, and the more intense the flavor of the wine that the grapes will produce. Plus, the intense exposure to solar rays can aid in the wine’s aging process due to the grapes’ strong tannins and high acidity that go hand-in-hand with concentrated sunlight.
Greater Temperature Fluctuations
The higher the elevation, the lower the average temperatures will be. Low temperatures, in combination with strong sunlight, promote the growth of grapes with lower alcohol content and higher acidity levels. These traits lend themselves to lighter, fresher, well-balanced wine that can be described as crisp, energetic, and bright. In addition, cooler nights, brisk windchill, and more drastic diurnal temperature changes allow grapes to better conserve their acidity. Wines with higher acidity tend to last longer, resulting in an elegant and age-worthy wine that will stand the test of time. Plus, the cool windchill that is inevitable in the mountains helps to preserve freshness and keep high-altitude wines tasting crisp.
Rocky Soil is Optimal for Growing Grapes
An exclusive benefit to winemaking at high altitudes is the special terrain that is unique to the mountainside. The rocky soil found on mountain slopes creates optimal conditions for growing grapes. Since mountainous soil contains volcanic ferrous content, along with a variety of rocks including marine sediments, shale, sandstone, chert, and gravel, the rocky soil brings out highly sought-after notes of minerality in our wines. This combination of sediments found in the mountainous terrain of the Mayacamas Range, along with the high altitudes, create optimal conditions for smaller, more intense and flavorful berries and phenolics to thrive.
Mountain Freshness Creates the Purest Fruit with the Boldest Flavor
With crisp mountain air, rocky soil, bright sunlight, and chilly breezes come an intensity in wine color, flavor, and tannins that simply cannot be found anywhere else but the high elevation of mountainside vineyards! In addition to the distinctly bold and flavorful wines grown on the mountainside having considerably lower alcohol content and higher acidity levels, high altitude wines are also known for their complexity since grapes grown around the fog line are exposed to a rare fluctuating climate that can reveal unique complexities. High altitudes also mean a longer growing season since the grapes are exposed to more sunlight than they would be on the valley floor, resulting in bolder flavors and fuller-bodied wines since the grapes are given more time to ripen on the vine.
Greater Attention to Detail
Farming the steep slopes of the mountainside is much more complicated and time-consuming than the routine up-keep of vineyards in the valley. Traditional valley-grown grapes require minimal work by-hand and can instead be farmed using machinery. Mountain-grown grapes, on the other hand, require much more time and attention by passionate wine-makers who appreciate all of the hard work that goes into the process. Much, if not all, of this work is done painstakingly by hand — allowing each and every vine to be given proper attention and care. Not only does the process ensure that each and every grape that goes into Byrd Vineyard’s high-altitude wines are top-notch and high-quality, but it is also more sustainable for the land than using machinery as it minimizes our carbon footprint and allows us to produce higher quality fruit. Less than half of the vineyards in California are entirely farmed by hand, and Byrd Vineyard’s dedication to this traditional practice is part of what makes our vineyard so special.
Unparalleled Dedication to the Community
The complicated and time-consuming process of winemaking in the Mayacamas mountains could not be accomplished without the passionate wine lovers and community members that make up the Byrd Vineyard team. Made up of a tight-knit family of winemakers that genuinely care for one another and the community they serve, the Byrd Vineyard team is unlike any other. The same families have been working here for the past decade, truly showing a commitment to the land and to each other to produce award-winning quality wine you can enjoy. Though the process is arduous, the distinctly bold and highly celebrated wines that Byrd Vineyard continually produces year after year make the journey worth it!
Award-Winning Wines from a Unique Location
The Cabernet Sauvignons produced here at Byrd Vineyard have strong tannins, balanced acidity, and bold flavors due to the high altitudes and mountain terrain found in the vineyard’s unique location. These qualities help make our wine stand out as elegant and complex as they age finely through the years.