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Microclimate and Terroir

So What Is Terroir?
An excellent wine evokes memories of its origins: vineyards, countryside vistas, and gentle summer days. Good wines are but well-crafted expressions of their terroir and that provenance includes geography, topography, soils, microclimate, and the vineyard-caring culture. The art and science of great wine production is to so manage the vineyard and wine-making disciplines that the local terroir is expressed to perfection.  Johnson Estate’s terroir is most like the Rhine and Moselle areas of Germany, both in climate and soils. Since Lake Erie is a more effective heat reservoir than a river, this terroir, is arguably better than its Old World cousins.

Johnson Estate Farm, with Lake Erie in distance. 

The Lake Erie Viticultural Area, Century-Old Grape Region
The largest and finest grape growing area east of the Rockies is found along the southeastern shore of Lake Erie in western New York and Pennsylvania. In this place are the classic wine-growing conditions:   a northern latitude with the resulting long hours of summer sunlight, well-drained sand, gravel and shale soils which grapes prefer,  left from the retreat of ancient glacier, and a climate moderated by an adjacent body of water, Lake Erie.  The “lake effect” on the local climate is held in and concentrated by the hills of the Allegany Plateau which parallel the lake shore.  For more than a century, this region has been known as the largest concord grape growing region in the world, testimony to the area’s suitability for growing grapes of all types, and increasingly wine grapes.  Located in the heart of this area, the 200-acre Johnson Estate farm overlooks Lake Erie at the closest approach of these hills to the lake and, as a result, it has one of the finest wine-growing microclimates to be found in the region.

We Do We Mean By an Ideal "Micro-climate?"
Like most plants, grape vines thrive when they have the correct balance between warmth and coldness, sunshine and rain.   That is why 90% of the grapes grown in the world fall between 30 degrees and 50 degrees north and south latitude. Our vineyards are at approximately 42 degrees north latitude. For grapes to ripen satisfactorily they need a minimum of 1500 hours of sunshine during the growing season; we get 1500-1700 hours beginning on April 1st and ending on October 31st. This is particularly true of red grapes, which need more sunshine than whites. The long hot summers of the region are ideal for growing grapes.  Importantly, Lake Erie acts to moderate the temperatures, this is very important in the winter, as extreme cold can kill or damage grapevines. When the temperature falls below -20 C (-2 F), bud damage becomes more likely.  This large body of water can cause the lakeshore region to be as much as 5 to 15 degrees warmer than it is inland.  The extra warmth also delays bud-break until mid-April, at which point the buds are out of danger of any severe frost that may damage or kill them. The lake's influence is also felt in the summer.   By absorbing vast amounts of heat and then releasing it whenever the surrounding air and land is cooler than the water, we are able to harvest as late as the end of October without the risk of frost.    As you can see, much of the success of our vines is owed to the beautiful blue lake that lies a few short miles from the farm.

Along with sunshine, the vines also need to absorb considerable amounts of water throughout the year.   The ideal is approximately 700 mm, or 27.6 inches, of rain per year.  The farm gets about 25-30 inches, which is ideal for flourishing grapevines.  Once again, Lake Erie lends us its blessings.  Though the rainfall is perfect, the quality of the grapes produced can suffer if they absorb too much water. Our vineyards grow in good soil that sits on a foundation of gravel and shale that was once the old shoreline of Lake Erie...about 15,000 years ago.   It is perfect for the vines and it provides the perfect drainage system for any excess rainfall.