When we think about wine, we hardly stress the importance of soils. Soils are key for vines to express themselves. Some of the most coveted wines in the world, such as Burgundy, Champagne, Rioja, Barolo, Uco Valley, and Apalta Valley are so special in part because of their soils, and the way those soils interact with other natural factors. Elements such as sun exposure, wind patterns, river streams, altitudes, low humidity, minimal water precipitation during growing season, and so on, all have different effects on the vines depending on the soil type, and vice versa. Winemaking is not an easy task. Passion, patience, relentlessness and full understanding of the soils are all important to produce quality fermented juice.
Let's go over a few influential factors when we talk about soils. Do keep in mind the winegrowers are farmers, they tend the vines, soils and ecosystems with tender loving care and pride in their craft to grow the best grapes they can to make exceptional wines. We believe all the effort should be focused on the quality of the grapes: take care of the vines and they will love you back! Let the terroir and identity of the place express itself. That's what makes wine a thrilling experience!
So, why are soils so important? There are many answers, one of the most important ones is that soils give wines typicity. When we drink a wine we want to be transported to the vineyards where the grapes where harvested. The essence of the aromas, tannins, fruit, structure, acidity and minerals are all attributable to the soils. The longer the vine has been there, attached to many different layers of soils, the more complex and interesting the wines will be.
Soils are the accumulation of millions of years of many geological and atmospheric events (floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes) that have exposed to us unique soils. In many cases, land once part of oceans, seas, lakes and river beds millions and millions years ago, is now located in premier wine regions in Europe, South and North America. Mother nature works in mysterious ways. Simply fascinating!
Here's a breakdown of the most common soils types, along with examples of famous regions that have them and grapes that are grown in them:
Granitic: This type has high mineral concentration from both the granite, and also often comes with sea shelf deposits. It also drains very well and retains heat. Grapes grown in granitic soils produce wines with heightened aromatics, salinity, and freshness. Regions with this soil type include Casablanca Valley and Maule Valley in Chile, Canelones in Uruguay and Penedes in Spain.
- Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Carignan, Tannat, Xarello, Chradonnay.
Limestone: High mineral concentration from sea shelf deposits leads to fresh acidity, salinity, fresh fruits tones, and added complexity in the wine. Regions include Champagne in France, Albariza soils in Jerez and Ribera del Duero in Spain, Elqui Valley and Limari Valley in Chile.
- Grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Palomino, Pedro Ximenez, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc.
Black Slate: Common in Priorat (one of our favorites!), "Llicorella" is rich in mineral concentration and allows for good drainage. It also retains heat during the day, and helps cool the vineyards at night. This all results in extra freshness and complexity.
- Grapes: Grenache, Carignan, White Grenache, Pedro Ximenez, Chenin Blanc, Syrah, Samso, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Sandy: retains heat well and drains well, producing wine with freshness, heightened aromatics, salinity, and a bright expression of the grapes' essential characteristics. Regions include Rueda in Spain, Salta in Argentina, and Campania and Tuscany in Italy.
- Grapes: Verdejo, Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes, Malbec, Sangiovese, Vermentino, Vernaccia.
Alluvial: Perhaps the most prized, if not the most talked about, soil type, alluvial soils are the product of ancient river/sea/glaciers bed soils full layers of minerals. Alluvial drains very well better drainage, giving the wines extra freshness from acidity. Regions include Uco Valley and Patagonia in Argentina, Napa Valley in California, Ribera Sacra and Rioja in Spain.
- Grapes: Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Mencia, Tempranillo.
Volcanic: high mineral content, loose soil for better drainage, with relatively nutrients, volcanic soils really stress grapes out. A distinct smoky character on the nose and palate gives away wines grown in this soil type. Wines from grapes grown in volcanic soil are alsp mineral driven, aromatic, complex wines with high acid. Regions include Sicily and Campania in Italy, the Canary Islands in Spain, and Bio Bio Valley in Chile.
- Grapes: Nerello Mascalese, Frapatto, Nero D'Avola, Grillo, Aglianico, Falanghina, Listan Negro, Listan Blanco, Pais.
Clay: Clay holds water better than all other soil types, is often mixed in with other soil types, and is common near rivers. Its relatively high nutrient content and thicker consistency means the roots have a harder time working outward, but don't need to extend as far because what they need is right there! This leads to fruit driven, fresh and complex wines. Regions include Colchagua Valley in Chile, Ribera del Duero and Toro in Spain, and Bordeaux in France.
- Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Tempranillo, Tinta de Toro.
In conclusion, we love contemplating soils, so next time you pop open a bottle, remember that the soils are speaking to you and you are drinking mother natures geological history. Cheers!