Terroir of the Maltese Islands
The most important factor is CLIMATE. This is by far the major player in comparison to SOIL and ENVIRONMENT. It follows then that although the soil quality has its importance, it’s influence on quality is relatively minor.
1. Climate falls in the warm temperate category, with rainfall usually in autumn and winter. Spring and summer are usually very low on rainfall.
• Temperatures average 13 deg. C. in winter and 30 deg. C. in summer. Frost is practically unknown, and summer temperatures over 35 deg. C. are very rare. Winters are rather short, and the warm season is long.
• Sunshine hours reach their peak in summer, but spring is also very generous on sunshine. The Maltese islands average 300 days of sunshine per year. Lots of sunshine besides the obvious positive effect on quality, is ideal against fungal diseases.
• Rainfall average is 500mm annually, concentrated mainly in autumn and winter. Although on the one hand this necessitates irrigation in spring and summer, it also helps prevent fungal diseases like mildew during the growing season
• Wind is an important player. Most of the topography of the Maltese islands is exposed to wind; sheltered zones are very hard to come by. Wind has its pros and cons. It is fortunate that the prevailing wind direction is on 80% of the time, so that as a problem it is quite predictable. The prevailing wind is northwesterly, and is characterised by being cool and dry. It is a bonus in summer, as it helps to keep summer temperatures in check. The dryness it brings about helps prevent fungal diseases. On the other hand strong winds in critical periods (e.g. bud break) can cause mechanical damage, and the inherent dryness exacerbates an already critically dry situation.
2. Soil is highly calcareous and originates from sedimentary rock. The soil of the Maltese islands can be divided into three main types according to physical characteristics. Sandy soil (colour: red) in the south, south east, south west and western areas; loamy soils (colour: light grey) in the central area; clay soils (colour: grey) in the north, north west and Gozo.
pH is high, usually 7.8 or above.
It is usually not very deep, in most cases averaging less than 100cm.The underlying rock therefore assumes a very important role. This consists, in most areas of friable limestone, which is porous and acts like a sponge thereby retaining a good amount of water from the wet season, which the plants can rely on during the dry spell.
3. Environment is heavily influenced by the fact that the Maltese islands are relatively small and the coast is never further than say five km from any given point. Part of the reason why Maltese wines have a potential for strong flavours may be due to the enhancing effect of the salt influence. The proximity to the sea also generates beneficial night dew during the dry season, which helps mitigate the effects of dryness.