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Primary Factors of Influence: In the Vineyard

James Suckling

Lesson time 13:51 min

All great wines begin in the vineyard. Learn the principles of viticulture as James teaches you the factors that influence a great wine, and the importance of soil, climate, varietals, and regions.

James Suckling
Teaches Wine Appreciation
Flavor, aroma, and structure—Learn from wine master James Suckling as he teaches you to appreciate the stories in every bottle.
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I'm here in Tuscany at the estate of Tenuta Tignanello. It's owned by the family of Antinori. This Florentine family has been making wine here for over 600 years. Here on this estate, they make two world-class wines called Tignanello and Solaia. The vineyards are just behind me there-- iconic wines that age for decades. We're going to begin here in the vineyards with the grapes, and start our journey here so that you understand the fundamentals of soil and terroir. It's interesting that the principles of winemaking and viticulture are essentially the same around the world. The concept is, as a winemaker, I look for the best grapes and I try to maintain the quality in those grapes all the way through the wine-making process and into the bottle. So look at this experimental vineyard. Typical soils of the region-- alberese, which is high in calcium. These are fossils that have let off calcium products into the soil. There's other places in the world like that-- such as Burgundy, some places in the Central Coast, and California-- but this is particularly unique in Chianti Classico in Tuscany. Also interesting in this experimental vineyard are these stones. The Antinoris are always looking for better ways to cultivate their vines, even using these stones which are placed around the trunks of the vines themselves. And these stones reflect the sun and also take in heat during the day. So into the night, this heat reflects into the vineyards, and they're hoping that this will help the vines grow and produce better, riper fruit. It's key that there's not too much precipitation in the soil, because all sorts of things can happen-- from disease to dilution in the grapes. It's all about a balance in the soil and microclimate of the vineyards. These vines, to me, look in beautiful shape. The canopy has been well-maintained. It's shading the grapes so you're not getting much sunburn. It's all about having the right balance of foliage and the bunches of grapes to the age of the vine. That brings along perfect maturity-- as long as God gives us great weather. [MUSIC PLAYING] I love to feel the soil under my feet. It reminds me how important soil, vineyards, climate has to do with wine. It's key. It's everything. For example, here in this vineyard, with the alberese soils it provides the vines with just enough nutrition, but not too much. This makes the vines grow in a very balanced way. And in a way, they're suffering. But it's not that they're suffering. It's just that they don't want the vines to grow too vigorously or too quickly, because this produces the best quality grapes. And what's amazing to me about these beautiful vines-- I love to touch them-- each vine is like a different human being. They have different personalities. They grow up in a different way. Well, what's interesting-- these are 25 years old, but they look like they're six, seven years old. That's because they've grown with less nutrients than in oth...

Discover the story in every bottle

Called one of the “world’s most powerful wine critics,” James Suckling has tasted more than 200,000 wines over the past 40 years. In his wine tasting MasterClass, James tours legendary Tuscan vineyards and teaches you to explore the stories, history, and people behind every bottle. Deepen your knowledge of the properties in each sip, cultivate your passion, and choose, order, and pair wines with confidence.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I wanted a bit more on the making of wine, but certainly made me want to keep exploring.

This masterclass made me want to taste & appreciate more vines from more regions of the world. I've learned some of the jargon, some few tricks, and can't wait to use them.

Me ha parecido un curso muy bien estructurado, presentado y muy interesante. He echado en falta un poco más de base, pero aún así es un buen curso

I really enjoyed both the pairing section and the section about Antinori and their Tignanello (which I had never heard of).


Morris F.

This is my favorite lesson. Understanding the living part of wine making and how the vine, branches and grapes draw quality form soil, sun and air is fascinating.

Angela D.

I will add stones to my grape beds! I didn't see any roses at the end of their grape rows? Loved this lesson. Beautiful vineyard.

Johnny C.

Tignanello and Solaia are great wines without a doubt. In fact I hate to admit that I enjoy them as much as I do. But it needs to be said that "Super Tuscans" are a controversial category of Italian wines. Italian wines don't need to be fixed by international grapes and the best wines in Italy come from single varietal, sometimes even single vineyard, winemaking practices. I would never pay what Solaia and Tig sell for when I can buy a proper Brunello di Montalcino or Barbaresco for those prices.

David H.

Honestly, a wine like the Solaia, for around €250+ better be good. I am zero impressed or surprised by this. Even the Tignanello with €90 per bottle is ridiculous expensive.

Barbara H.

These classes have been interesting and informative thus far. I would hope to be able to visit a quality vineyard in Tuscany someday. In the interim, I was hoping to gain some knowledge about how to purchase a quality wine in my local wine shop. Maybe that will come in future lessons. There is such a huge variety available and some are of such poor quality, it is hard to make wise choices. Anyone have any helpful suggestions?