Considering its location, the Cotnari region in Romania should be a difficult place to grow grapes. The vineyards are located between 47o17′ and 47o35′ northern latitude, in the middle of the continent, away from the beneficial influence of the Atlantic or the Mediteranean Sea. In spite of that, from Cotnari come some of the finest wines in Romania, thought to be “some of the best in the world” by A. Julien, the Frenchmen who mentioned this area in Topographie des vignobles connus of 1832.
There are two factors that cause this area to be great for wine-grape growers: the Foehn-type winds, and the string of depressions that offer protection from the cold air from the North. By the way, “depression” in geography is a landform at a lower elevation compared to the surrounding areas — nothing to get depressed about. Both the Foehn-type winds and the depressions are influenced by geology, hence the point of the post: geology and wine are very much linked.
The Foehn winds, or Chinook winds as they are known in North America, are dry and warm winds that blow downslope of a mountain range.
The Cotnari area is in the rain shadow of the Eastern Carpathians, hence the warmer climate, somewhat unusual for this northern latitude. The Eastern Carpathians started forming over 100 million years ago, in Cretaceous time, by collision between tectonic plates. The Eastern Carpathians thrust-and-fold belt slowly uplifted since the Cretaceous to become the beautiful mountains of today. Prior to the Cretaceous time there were no mountains, therefore no Foehn winds, no warm climate, no wine. The dinosaurs could not have grown grapes around the Cotnari area, maybe this is one of the reasons they went extinct 🙂 The small depressions that offer protection and good micro-climate for grape-vine growing are also a result of geology: they are controlled by subsidence along the myriad of faults associated with the mountain belt. The result for the Cotnari area and its wine? Nice annual average temperatures of 9deg C, early springs and nice late autums lasting through October.
The Cotnari wines come from native varieties of grape: Grasa de Cotnari, Feteasca Alba, Francusa, Busuioaca de Moldova. My favorites are Francusa, for its subtle, flowery taste, and of course Grasa de Cotnari, the perfect companion for a dessert. So this weekend, enjoy your favorite glass of wine and think about the geology that made it possible. As we say in Romania – Noroc!
Sources and further info:
Romania, the land of wine by V. Cotea and F. Andreescu
Nice photography from the Carpathians in Romania are found here
Cotnari vineyard blogpost on TrueRomania