The “Judgement of Paris” in 1976 is widely understood to have shocked the wine world. The wine competition pitted the best Napa Valley vineyards with their counterparts in Bordeaux. The world was shocked because US wineries won both the wine and red wine categories. The white wine winner was the Chateau Montelena while the red wine victory was awarded to Stags Leap.
Bordeaux France produces the world’s most sought-after wines. A key factor contributing to Bordeaux’s desirability is its climate. In this post, we compare the Bordeaux climate with Napa and Albemarle County, VA, also in the United States. Albemarle county happens to be where the author lives and frequents local vineyards.
We start with a simple temperature comparison. Data from the “Global Summary of the Day” is used to compare monthly averaged temperatures since 2004. This data is readily available and enables quickly building climatologies. The data recorded for these locations come from the primary airports at each location. Consider this data indicative of the climate condition between the three locations. Small scale differences such as elevation and proximity to the population can have locally important impacts on temperatures. Many vineyards benefit from their microclimate, which is specific to their location.
Bordeaux Climate Compared to Napa and Albemarle
Figure 1 shows monthly average temperatures for Bordeaux, Napa Valley, and Albemarle County. We see Napa has the lowest summer-time monthly average temperatures while Albemarle County has the highest monthly average temperatures. The reverse is true in wintertime.
The details of a wine region’s climate is important. For example, 2020 late spring freezing temperatures damaged vines in Albemarle County imperiling that year’s crop for many producers. Fgiure 2 provides additional information regarding our three regions climate with respect to average temperature, minimum and maximum temperatures, and precipitation.
Notice in the summer months Albemarle County, Virginia has higher overall temperatures and receives substantially more precipitation. Interestingly, Napa Valley precipitation is approximately zero during July and August.
Finally, it’s helpful to examine the data in a time context. The monthly averaged temperatures for each year since 2004 for Bordeaux, Napa, and Albemarle are shown in Figure 3. In summer we see the relative rankings of the average temperatures discussed in Figure 1 remain constant. Albemarle County is warmer than Bordeaux, which is warmer than Napa. In wintertime, the relationship is generally reversed. Napa is warmer than Bordeaux which is warmer than Albemarle County. However, there are a few winters, such as 2018/2019 and 2006/200 when Bordeaux was as cold as Albemarle County.