Guide to cool climate viticulture

Judith Papesh
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What is cool climate viticulture and why does it matter?

Like people, grapes have climates they prefer, and they’ll show their displeasure by not ripening. There are white and red varieties that thrive in cooler climates, including Oregon standouts, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir. 

Cool climate white wines are sought for their high acid, fresh fruit, and citrus characters in a food-friendly lower alcohol frame. Cool climate reds, like Pinot Noir, are lighter in color with red fruit, spices, and lower alcohols. These reds are also exceptionally food-friendly and enjoyable.

It’s all in the latitude

On a world map, premium wine-growing regions in the northern hemisphere lie between 30°N and 50°N, with a corresponding band from 30° S to 50° S in the southern hemisphere.


Map of Oregon's latitudeSource: Oregon Wine Board

Oregon is located between the 42nd and 46th parallels, within the preferred latitudes for viticulture, yet still an area considered a cool climate and marginal for fine wine grapes. In marginal climates, the grapes need some help to thrive, and thrive they do! Cool climate viticulture areas produce some of the most celebrated wines globally, including Champagne, Bourgogne, and Riesling from the Mosel.

What makes a cool climate?

There is a progression from the cool Champagne region to the heat of Lodi, California, when looking at the average growing season temperature chart. It’s clear that Oregon is not a simple story—with its cool conditions in the Willamette Valley, intermediate in Southern Oregon, and warm conditions further east in the Walla Walla Valley.

Bar graph of Oregon's growing season temperaturesSource: Oregon Wine Board

A cool climate can be affected by latitude, wind, and topography/elevation. Oregon’s northern latitude provides additional daylight, up to 15 hours in the summer growing season. Long growing days allow grapes to build complex flavor slowly in cool morning and evening temperatures. Temperatures drop significantly at night, preserving acidity in the grapes.


Map of Oregon's cool temperaturesSource: Oregon Wine Board

Winds give and take

Northerly wine-growing areas have a cool climate with warm, dry summers and cold, wet winters with ocean effects in both seasons. In summer, cooling winds off the Pacific Ocean flow through gaps in the coastal mountain ranges and temper summer heat. In winter, the mountains protect the vineyards from frigid Pacific winds. This is true in the Willamette Valley.

Mountains give and take too

The mountains also provide high elevation sites where cool climate varieties can grow in areas that may be much hotter than they prefer, like Southern Oregon AVAs. In otherwise cool locations, high elevation sites can create bowls or amphitheaters that focus heat and promote enhanced ripening for cool climate grapes or even allow grapes usually needing more heat to grow.


Learn more about Oregon wines

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About Judith Papesh

Retired Winemaker, Winemaking Consultant, and Washington State Licensed Geologist. Bourgogne Master Level Certification, French, Italian, and Spanish Wine Scholar Certifications

In the first class to complete Washington State University (WSU) Extension Enology Certification, Judith opened her winery, crafting wines that garnered local and international acclaim before turning her attention to studying and educating about the world's wines. "Winemaking is very much an art as well as a science; it is a consuming passion that drives you during the day, keeps you up at night, and when the wine is right, simply leaves you breathless."