Monthly Archives: June 2011
Here’s the dirt on…
I failed Chemistry in High School and didn’t fair too well at Biology either. When I went to University, students were forced to take natural science courses. So when faced with the prospect of suffering through taxonomy or the periodic table of elements again, I came across an alternative that I found fascinating: dirt and rocks.
Geology is by far the nerdiest of possible scientific studies. I mean Geologists are the people that regard 8 million years as a relatively short time span. But seriously, rocks and dirt changed my life. An early appreciation of rocks and dirt set me on a course to understanding one of the tenets of the holy trinity of wine (soil, sun, exposure).
I am reminded of an episode of Conan O’Brien where one of his guests, a guy by the name of Gary Vaynerchuk (fellow wine revolutionary) gets Conan to actually suck on rocks soaked in salt water and to eat dirt that has been mixed with cigar tobacco and cherries. It was hilarious (see link, Conan eating dirt) but also a good example of why wine is influenced so much by the soil it is grown in. Soil is remarkable, a living organism in itself derived usually from rocks but then all kinds of other organic material to add a bit of funk. It all adds up to the main reason wine tastes “oh so good”.
My first hand understanding of this dirt and flavor association came from, (where else?) the Willamette Valley of Oregon where they produce Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir makes great wine, but it also makes great wine in which you can taste dirt. Below is a list of the three main soil types in the Willamette Valley, each imparting their own flavor to the wines.
Jory- Volcanic based basalt that is the most prominent in the WV. It has a lot of clay and iron in it and always adds minerality to wine, especially on the finish.
Willakenzie- is a type of soil that is composed of marine sediment that was left over from the area when it was still an ocean 15 million years ago. Sedimentary soils are lacking much mineral content and cause the vine to struggle to find nutrients. This causes the wines to be more powerful, more structured. These wines benefit from cellar age.
LaurelWood- this is a soil that falls under the loess category or a type of soil that is silty and was left over as glaciers retreated. It tends to be fertile but erodes easily which makes it tricky to farm. Pinot Noir, in this soil, tends to have brighter red fruit with an earthiness to them sometimes with a little white pepper on the finish.
As a little challenge to all our faithful wine devotees reading this, come into DW on any given Saturday in June and tell us you want to take the “Oregon Pinot Noir Challenge”. We will set you up with a taste of Oregon Pinot and you tell us what kind of soil you think it was grown in. If you guess correctly, we will give you a bottle of that same wine for free. Yay! Good luck.