I was stunned during my Sommelier training to learn how much the taste and characteristics of wine are influenced by the soil in which the vines are grown. As the vine roots burrow through the earth, they absorb the mineral characteristics of each soil-type or rock layer they penetrate. Rieslings from Germany are notorious for their slate-like taste derived from the layers of native slate between loose soil. The Terra Rossa soil (clay overlying limestone) found in the Coonawarra region of Australia gives the Cabernet Sauvignon produced there a distinctive, earthy, spicy characteristic. The same is true for the flinty tasting French Chardonnays from the Puligney-Montrachet region, whose roots are deeply entrenched in layers of flint rock.
Oregon wines also possess a regional taste. More specifically, the Willamette Valley possesses a variety of soil types from the various floods, volcanic activity and ocean sediment that has accumulated throughout the passage of millions of years. Each sub-region of the Willamette Valley has its own unique tastes and characterists particular to that individual locale. The red, silt, clay Basalt soils surrounding Dundee create earthy, truffle-like spices and red fruit notes in their Pinot noirs. Yamhill, McMinnville, Chehalem and Ribbon Ridge AVAs contain an ocean sedimentary soil which creates wines that possess black fruit, brown spices, tobacco and chocolate. The Eola Hills are composed of purely volcanic soils and produce a Pinot with notes of dark fruit, spice and mineral.
The next time you enjoy a glass of wine, you may attribute the flavors you detect to the winemaker or varietal of grape, but it is actually the soil that deserves the credit for the experience.
Annette Solomon, CS