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Yesterday, the Stage 9 of Le Tour de France in the Alps of France, specifically the Jura region, brought a lot of excitement to the riders. The Stage condensed three haute category climbs in the Jura route: Mont du Chat, Col de la Biche, and Grand Colombier. The climbs weren’t the only difficult part of the race. The descents proved to be as intense, with two major accidents occurring. The first crash had Englishman, Geraint Thomas, breaking his collarbone and the second victim was Australian, Richie Porte, who was propelled head first into a stone wall. The drama didn’t end until the riders crossed the finish line with the pronounced winner, Rigoberto Urán, taking the lead on a bike with only two working gears. It was not a fun day. What else is not fun? Harvesting grapes on the steep slopes of the French Alps, ‘steep’ being from 60 percent inclines and up. Cultivating and harvesting grapes on these types of hillsides is an elaborate, expensive, and dangerous process. Due to the technical terrain, machines and tractors typically used in winemaking to cut, spray, and harvest cannot stay level at such a gradient. The manual labor required for one hectare of vineyards on slopes this steep can require up to 1500 hours of labor. To give contrast, on flat lands, such as Virginia, with the use of tractors and automated harvesting vehicles, the manual labor hours may be only 180 for one hectare. The workers for steep slopes need to not only know how to harvest, but need to be incredibly physically fit as the techniques used are akin to that of rock climbing. So, if making wine on such steep slopes is so costly, why do it? The grapes produced on steep slopes are of great quality! After all, some of the best vineyards are in mountainous areas, for example: the Mosel, Rheingau, Rhone, Cote d’Or, Alto Adige, Piedmont, Tuscany, Duoro, and Mendoza. Nationally, mountain or hill vineyard sites are highly sought after, from Shenandoah to Napa, everyone wants a little elevation for their vines. There are a couple of reasons why: there is less top soil due to millions of years of erosion forcing the vines to dig deep into the ground in search of water, while searching for water the vines pick up extra nutrients from organisms in the soils, the steep slopes offer great drainage meaning the grapes are not saturated or lose concentration, the altitude is more moderate and offers a slow ripening period lending the benefit of longer hang time on the vine which creates greater opportunity for the accumulation of acids and flavor, the fewer nutrients in the soils cause the vineyards to struggle and produce fewer bunches on the vine creating fewer berries and smaller individual berries, grapes produced are smaller in size so the volume of juice within the berry is more intense, and grapes have a high skin to juice ratio due to this smaller size offering firm structure and complexity. Definitely seek out wines from hilly regions of the world to experience wine produced with a lot of hard work and love.

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