In my Planet Wine series on this blog, I’ve tried to go to the ends of the Earth to find for you some of the most startling, out-of-the-way places on our little world where wine is made. Now I’ve done literally that, because this astounding winery really is at the end of the Earth–it’s in Antarctica!
This is Shackleton Estates, located on Cape Royds, a rocky promontory on the edge of Ross Island in eastern Antarctica. Although due to international treaty no nation or private citizen can “own” real estate in Antarctica, this site is technically under the jurisdiction of the (U.S.) National Science Foundation, and in fact began as a scientific experiment to determine whether Antarctic soils have enough nutrients to support agriculture. Dr. Emmett Childress, a botanist, whose brother is the winemaker at Stonepath Vineyards in Yountville, California, planted the first vine cuttings here–chardonnay grapes transplanted from Stonepath–in 1997. The results were surprisingly good, and Shackleton, named for the Antarctic explorer who wintered near here in 1908, is now operated as a public-private partnership between Stonepath Vineyards and the U.S. Antarctic Program. All proceeds from the winery go to fund the National Science Foundation.
Sadly, the whole reason why wine grapes can flourish here is because of climate change. Normally the Antarctic climate would be far too harsh for viticulture, but the decrease of the Antarctic ice sheet and rise in temperatures has begun to turn formerly desolate areas into wine-producing ones. While I’m very concerned about climate change, the fact that new areas of the world are being opened to wine production is one of the (very few) positive aspects of it.
Shackleton produces exclusively whites. The chardonnay is said to be very good, and the Penguin’s Reserve Riesling took a minor award at a wine show in 2013. As you might expect, Shackleton also produces a Gewurtztraminer and an ice wine, called Loof Lirpa, that is evidently a big hit at nearby McMurdo Station. Our amazing Planet Wine never seems to run out of surprises!