PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 August, 2006, 12:00am

It is difficult to explain passions, but some winemakers go to greater extremes than others. The extreme endurance award must go to Australia's Rutherglen stickies. These dark brown, sweet, highly evolved wines can take 80 years to produce. Honourable mention goes to a late-harvest riesling from Nussforf in Germany. It had such high sweetness levels that 30 years after its harvest it had only partially completed fermentation, finally reaching only 5 per cent alcohol.

While Bhutan and Nepal can lay claim to hosting the world's highest wineries - at 2,750 metres - Argentina is home to the world's greatest concentration of high-altitude vineyards, most planted higher than a breath-stealing 1,000 metres.

Contenders for the most labour-intensive vineyards bring to mind Sauternes producer Chateau d'Yquem and California's Screaming Eagle (both of which laboriously pick over their grapes several times, and use only the choicest specimens) and Madame Bize-Leroy's biodynamic vineyards in Burgundy, which make normal organic farming seem like a stroll in the park. But Asia can surely put forward a number of viable challengers. In Japan's Hokkaido region, individual grape bunches are painstakingly swathed with netting to protect them from birds. Or consider Bali's Hatten Winery, which operates in such fertile conditions, winemaker Vincent Desplat has had 17 harvests in eight years. Or China's first 'cult wine' producer, Grace Vineyards, based in chilly Shanxi province, which has to bury its vine trunks in dirt and straw each winter to ward off the cold.

The winery to make the best success of icy vineyards, though, must be Canada's Inniskillin winery, which has almost singlehandedly established Canada's reputation for producing a luscious nectar called ice wine by harvesting their grapes only when frozen, during the dead of night. While Canada and Germany have some of the most northerly vineyards in the world, New Zealand's Central Otago region, at 45 degrees latitude, is home to the world's most southerly vineyards. The most ambitious award goes to Suntime Winery in China, which recently planted vast vineyards in Turfin, expecting to become China's largest winery within a few years - and it probably will.

The award for the world's warmest vineyards would be hotly contested, but candidates could include Spain's Jerez region, famed for its sherry production, or Portugal's Duoro Valley, known for its port. Other contenders would be Sicily, Morocco and Greece's stunning Santorini Island, where the vineyards are trellised in the shape of wreaths positioned only a few centimetes off the ground to capture the scant moisture.

And speaking of moisture, the savvy public relations team for Thailand's Siam Winery has made a marketing coup by dubbing their uniquely designed vineyards as the only 'floating vineyards' in the world. They do not actually float, as vines require soil to survive, but the vines are planted on small rectangular patches of land connected by a system of interlocking drainage canals, somewhat like a mini Venice. The vines are trained onto high-hanging trellises and are harvested by teams in boats

or on bamboo rafts then paddled to the nearby winery.

But surely the award for the most bizarre viticultural effort with moisture is in Hawaii, where researchers have applied the 'cold water' method of cultivation to simulate the correct climatic conditions. Cold sea water, taken from the chilly lower depths of the ocean, is pumped into plastic pipes laid under the vineyards. Perhaps to water the vines, you ask? No, to cool the soil. As the soil cools, Hawaii's air condenses into rain to provide freshwater irrigation for the vines. Perhaps it would be more practical to plant these cooling pipes under the piping hot black beaches so that I can lie comfortably on the dark sands. Now, that's a passion I can understand.