Grape Growing - Does Soil Matter?
Digging a little deeper
What makes a wine great? Whenever this question is raised, it will not be long before soil type is thrown into the mix as a key determining factor. Growing grape vines and the climates that most suit their growing will point us towards regions where excellent wines should be possible, but even within a specific appellation, vineyard variation can be significant. One major reason for this variation will be soil type and the condition of a given soil. Generally, the soil will be either; clay, sand, silt or loam or a combination thereof and the pH of these soils will impact on the ability of a vine to take in nutrients. These four main types and their conditions can impact the style of any final wine as much as any winemaking practice or climatic influence.
For a quick guide to soil types check out Wine Folly’s - Introduction to Soil Types and Wine
Burgundy - Wines expressive of place.
Take a prestigious wine region and a grape well suited to the growing conditions, and you will find producers focusing a lot of their attention on the soil in which their grapes are growing. This is particularly the case for a grape variety that is terroir expressive. Across Burgundy for example, the soil composition will play a significant role in the classification of a given vineyard site and as such soil condition has always been on the radar of the top producers in the region. However, such attention is not given across the wine world.
Hirsch Vineyards - West Coast Pinot Noir
Hirsch Vineyards in Sonoma County is an excellent example of a Pinot Noir specialist focusing on soil composition on the US West Coast – and in this regard Hirsch were pioneers. When its founder David Hirsch was taking detailed soil samples across his vineyard sites and dividing his estate into intricate terroir specific blocks, most Californian estates had yet to focus on soil - particularly its condition. The result of careful vineyard management and biodynamic low intervention wine growing, is a portfolio of Pinot Noir wines displaying unique characteristics firmly reflective of place and soil. Drawing on 60 distinct, individually vinified, farming blocks found nestled along the mountainous ridge lines of Fort Ross – Seaview AVA, Hirsch produces Pinot of exceptional quality, with variation and complexity derived in part from contrasting soils and where required careful manipulation of soil composition. From vineyard blocks found along three ridges across the AVA, Hirsch has produced three distinct Pinot Noir wines all available online at Roberson Wine.
East Ridge Pinot Noir 2016, Hirsch Vineyards
A wine of fantastic structure and concentration. East Ridge is a fruit forward wine with rich dark fruits and hints of spice. The Vines in many of the blocks have suffered from Phylloxera and other growing challenges. When a vine can overcome difficult conditions the grapes it produces, although in lower yields, can often display higher fruit concentration.
Raschen Ridge Pinot Noir 2016, Hirsch Vineyards
Made with grapes from rocky vineyards based at the highest elevation in the estate. Producing wines somewhere between East and West Ridge - relatively consistent soil types across the site but with some very stressed soils have forced the vines to adapt. These vines are now better for it, the resulting complexity is reflected in the wine.
West Ridge Pinot Noir 2016, Hirsch Vineyards
Made with grapes from blocks to the western edge of the estate West Ridge is an elegant wine with more subtlety than the East Ridge. Slightly more acidic soils than those found on East Ridge there is a lightness to these wines in clear contrast to the bigger and bolder East Ridge Pinot.
The same grape but three very different wines to enjoy!