We are currently in the middle of harvest which is usually a frenetic time of year. Thanks to some rain and 5 overcast days the ripening process has stalled, so I find myself with a little time to jot down some thoughts.
Soil in the vineyards
I have read some articles and seen video interviews with winemakers recently where they have all referred to the soil in their vineyards. They seem obsessed by it! They are in love with it! They will grab a handful of it and show you! It is the reason their wines are so good and so unique! They can taste the soil in their wine! (Love that one 😊)
While soil is obviously a very big component of the wine-growing process. It does store water and vital minerals for the vines to utilise during the season. Can you taste it in the wine?
You can have a large vineyard with the same wonderful soil type which is planted on the side of a hill down to a valley. The grapes that are from the hill will be a higher quality than those in the valley. This is a common occurrence in every grape growing region around the world. So there is more at play than just the soils
Science long ago discovered photosynthesis, and showed that grapevines are made not of soil but, in a way, of sunshine, air and water. Essentially, grapevines use sunlight to extract carbon dioxide from the air and combine it with water and minerals from the ground to make all the various carbohydrate compounds that make the vine. Flavour precursors then develop in the ripening grapes and fermentation converts them into the hundreds of aromatic compounds that determine what a wine tastes like.
It is hard to find the link to indicate how it is that a particular rock brings something to the wine in your glass – and our present scientific understanding makes it difficult to see how this might happen. So when a winemaker tastes their wine and talks about minerality, what are they talking about? Because all soils have a mineral component and can you taste it?
I think because the soil and vines are a visible entity it is easier to wax lyrical about them. Much harder to show and talk about photosynthesis or the micro-climate of the vineyard.
So sorry everyone, but I think it is a bit of wine wankerism or marketing spin… or maybe a romantic notion that journalists love to hear and write about and consumers love to hear and read about. I’m sure a lot of the winemakers believe in what they are saying, but it is just not backed up with science.
Yes, there are soil types that are more suited to growing grapes but to say the soil gives the resultant wine a certain special flavour. To me is a bit of a stretch because of all the other factors that go into the production of grape/wine.
You have probably heard the French term ‘terroir’ used by winemakers. In Australia it seems to be used a lot when talking about the soil. but it’s true meaning is describing all the factors which influence and contribute to producing the grapes/wine.
So, environmental factors, farming practices, soil, specific growth habits etc. It is all encompassing. What you are tasting in the glass is a big range of influences.
So there you have it. Am I a Crankie old man who is tired of all the marketing spin that is used in the industry? Should I be trusting facts and science or believing romantic notions, spin, untruths and fake news? 😊
P.S. If you see me licking rocks in the vineyard, it is for scientific research purposes 😊