We all know that a vineyard can be one of the most beautiful and nostalgic places on earth to visit. However, have you ever wondered why the vineyard was set up the way it is? Perhaps you noted that the blocks of grapes appeared to be highly categorized, but never understood why they didn’t choose to plant Chardonnay or Merlot in a specific spot. Why is that?
Soil plays a very large role in how grape vines develop, as well as which grape varietals can be planted for the best success. For example, would you try to plant corn in soil that is extremely stony or wet? Indeed you would not, as the crop would either be stunted due to lack of rooting or perish from disease due to the high levels of moisture. The same issues arise in vineyards and they must plant according to the soils they possess in each of their blocks.
There are several soil types, as we know from grade school science class. Sandy, clay, loam and silty are just a few of the soil types that are pretty common in vineyards around the world. There are often mixed soil types as well, but for the purpose of simplicity, we’ll stick with explaining just a couple types of soil for now.
These soils have excellent drainage, which is a huge benefit for varietals that cannot handle highly wet areas. In addition, these soils are great for producing grapes with heavy aromas, which is great for wines that rely on their nose for determination of quality. A few varietals that do well in this type of soil are Cabernet Sauvignon (please note, the color of the wine is often lighter than other Cabs of this type when grown on these soils), and Zinfandel. In fact, there are a few vineyards that have survived disease simply due to the sandy soil they were planted in, a fact that makes this soil type highly prized.
Clay soils are not exactly as they seem. Yes, they retain water, and indeed they are cooler than other soil types. However, the best clays are often and intermixed types, such as limestone and clay or clay and loam. It is the clay, however, that really is the superstar here, helping to encourage vines that produce very bold wines. Whether a Sangiovese or Pinot, the color is certainly going to pop with wines from this soil type. However, when a soil holds water, there is always the risk of disease, which makes successful harvests all the more special for the vineyards growing on these bases.
The next time you take a tour of a vineyard, pay attention to what is under your feet. Don’t be afraid to ask your guide about the soils and how they chose the location of a particular block grapes. By gaining an understanding of the vines and how they flourish in different areas, you just might gain a bit more insight into how that bottle of Petit Verdot gained its flavor, aroma, and texture.
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