Why do we think that the vineyard soil is so important for the taste of wine?
The rocks and soils in the vineyard certainly affect how vines grow but these days they pervade writings on wine flavor; some commentators believe they are the overriding contributor to taste. There are restaurant wine lists organized not by grape variety, region or style but by geology: granite wines, limestone wine, alluvial wines and so on. Some say the rocks can literally be tasted in the wine. Clearly people love these ideas, not least because they chime with today’s yearning for our food and drink having a sense of place and being linked with the “good earth”.
But in none of this is there any indication of how these things actually happen, and scientific understanding of how vines grow makes it very difficult to see how they would come about. In this webinar I will explain some of the scientific difficulties and explore two reasons why the beliefs might be so strong. One is historical: the powerful and ongoing legacy of centuries of teaching that wine was literally made from the soil. The other is the way we use certain geological words to communicate our taste perceptions: slaty, mineral, flinty and the like. The words conjure a link between wine and the soil but, just like most other tasting terms, in reality they have to be metaphors.
Alex has a long and decorated career in university teaching and research in geology, and for over forty years has grown vines and made wine at his home in Wales. Inevitably, all this led Alex to the much lauded but poorly understood relationship between wine and vineyard geology. He has talked about aspects of this around the world and published both in academic journals and popular magazines such as The World of Fine Wine and Decanter. Alex has advised on the geological content of a number of wine books, including the Oxford Companion to Wine and the World Atlas of Wine. He is the author of the acclaimed book: “Vineyards, Rocks, and Soils: A Wine Lover’s Guide to Geology”, Oxford, 2018.
Can you taste ‘minerality’? What do we mean by ‘terroir’? Where do aroma and flavour come from? Is too much attention paid to the role of the soil in discussions of the aromas and flavours of great wines? How rare are truly great winegrowing sites? These are some of the questions we aim to discuss in the upcoming Meeting of the Minds on November 25th.
Wine Scholar Guild Academic Advisor Andrew Jefford, speaking from France, will be bringing together a panel of key thinkers, educators, writers and experts in four countries to talk through these and other issues. Wales-based Professor Alex Maltman has had a forty-year teaching career, and now divides his time between writing about the relationship between geology and wine production as well as the influence of geology on other beverages and tending his own vineyard. California-based Professor Hildegarde Heymann teaches sensory science within the viticulture and oenology department of UC Davis, one of the world’s leading wine-educational institutions. Former plant scientist and science editor Dr Jamie Goode, speaking from the UK, writes, blogs and tweets about wine and wine science via his own Wine Anorak website as well as for The World of Fine Wine and other publications. Finally, speaking from Turckhiem in Alsace, comes Olivier Humbrecht MW, one of the world’s leading exponents and practitioners of site-sensitive winemaking and a widely acclaimed viticulturalist and winemaker.
This Meeting of the Minds aims to explore one of the most misunderstood yet also the most important topics in today’s wine world.
Andrew, Academic Advisor to the Wine Scholar Guild, has been writing about wine since 1988, notably for The Evening Standard and The Financial Times among other UK newspapers. He has columns in every edition of Decanter magazine and World of Fine Wine magazine, and is co-chair of Decanter World Wine Awards and vice-chair of Decanter Asia Wine Awards. His books include The New France, Whisky Island and Andrew Jefford’s Wine Course.
Emeritus Professor Alex Maltman, Aberystwyth University, geologist, teacher, writer
Professor Hildegarde Heymann, UC Davis, sensory scientist, teacher
Dr Jamie Goode, wine writer, wine judge
Olivier Humbrecht MW, wine grower, winemaker
Peter Liem talks with us about the progressive movement in Champagne. As we’ll discover in this conversation, there’s more to the terroir story than the chalk soils and the weather.