#TeamFabio, let’s dive in here at the ground level and learn the basics of soil and how it influences grape characteristics, which enviably impacts your wine. This lesson goes all the way back a few centuries ago, where some French growers and winemakers discovered that planting the same grape seeds in different soils resulted in far different results. In some cases, the wines were much better, and in others, well, let’s just say they were interesting.
Contrary to what the French growers were doing, many Americans didn’t adopt this philosophy until a few decades ago. Many growers and winemakers were under the impression that the same grape types would grow well in soils similar to those used in everyday agriculture crops, such as corn or soybeans. The result of using this type of soil to grow fruit seemed great at first glance. The grapes looked very nice and plump. However, since they were so large, the grape was diluted and it lost most of its flavor.
Agricultural soil is generally loaded with a ton of nutrients. That’s why sometimes you might see some corn crops grow more than ten feet tall! Wine grapes on the other hand need to almost struggle to survive in order to be suitable for wine. When grapevines are deprived of nutrients, their roots grow deep into the ground, and the result is that it produces fruit that is extremely concentrated and flavorful.
There are a lot of different types of soil that wine grapes are grown in; however, there are four that are predominant in modern wine production.
Sandy soils produce elegant wines with low tannins and great aromatics. An interesting fact is that sandy soil is great in resisting unwanted pests, which can lead to more sustainable wine practices.
Clay soils are where big bold wines, dark in color, are usually made. Clay soils tend to stay cooler and can retain water very well. Whenever there may be a drought or lack of water, grapes grown in clay generally are not impacted as much as grapes grown in other soils. In Tuscany, my home part of Italy, we’re known for making great Chianti, and you’ll generally find them grown in clay soil.
Silt soils lead to smooth and balanced wines. They are able to retain heat and water very well. In cooler climates, such as Washington and Oregon, you will typically find silt soil. If you are guessing that this must be the soil in which the delicate grape Pinot Noir is grown in, you’d be correct!
Lastly, Loam soil is a crumbly mixture of clay, sand, and silt. This type of soil is generally very fertile and needs to be blended with other types of soil in order to grow grapes for wine. If it’s not blended, you’ll end up with wines that have very little flavor and are light in color. Most of the valleys in Sonoma and Napa are naturally made up of loam soils. Over the years, Viticulturists have learned to blend and manage the various soil compositions.
If you want to try a wine that is sure to give you the most transparent view of where a wine was grown, try and taste a Pinot Noir from different vineyards. I was once at a winery in Sonoma, California and we tasted two Pinot Noirs that were grown in two different sections of the vineyard. Everything about the two wines seemed to be the same. The same winemaker, in the same vineyard, made them both during the same year. However, when comparing the wines side by side, they tasted tremendously different!
The reason why they tasted so different was because California has had a lot of earthquakes that caused the soils to shift. When the ground shifted, so did the steepness of the hills and amount of sunlight each section received. All of these factors affected the outcome of the wine.
So the next time you’re enjoying your favorite wine, sit back and think about where your wine came from. What kind of soil do you think was used in the vineyard? If you can understand the different soils your wine is grown in, you’re well on your way to becoming a wine expert! #Wine101