Winemaking - The Facts
- Thursday 7 July 2011
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Winemaking - The Soil
Everyone agrees on a few basics. Vineyard soils need to drain well.
Equally, if irrigation is not an option, the soil needs to be able to
retain some moisture to see the vine through the summer. Furthermore,
the vine needs to draw certain key nutrients, like iron and nitrogen,
from the soil.
So far, so good. It is what comes next that has
exercised the great wine minds of the last few hundred years. The
empirical observation over the centuries in Europe, and particularly in
France, is that certain vineyard plots pretty consistently produce wine
with a distinctive discrete character. Somewhere like Burgundy, a grower
may own two neighbouring plots of land, which he cultivates in exactly
the same way, and yet the wines from these two sites taste different.
The vine's environment is thought to be responsible in some way. The
French word 'terroir' encapsulates elements like the soil, the slope and
the localised climate, which make no two places identical in terms of
environment. By extension therefore, no two wines from different
vineyards will ever taste quite the same.
Although the cultural
gap is probably less now than it was in the past, it is possible to say
that a French wine's terroir is still seen as the most significant
determinant of its style and quality. By contrast, many growers in the
New World, whilst recognising the role of soil, aspect and
'microclimate', would not accord terroir alone the semi-mystical
significance it has in parts of Europe.
The soils which are a
component of the best terroirs in France are often low in organic matter
and quite poor. The vigour and yield of the vines is thus naturally
restricted. This leads to another much-argued observation which is that
most great wines are made from low yielding vines.