The Geology of Viniculture: An Introduction

“Great wines require old vines, poor soil, and rich men.” – Proverb

The wonderment of the connection between the earth and the vine began with the first glass of wine, and continues unabated today. Indeed, it seems that the discussion and study of terroir is even more prevalent, passionate, and perplexing than it has ever been. And in spite of the inevitable marketing overhype or chauvinistic protectionism by some wine makers who argue for the greatness and uniqueness of their terroir, there is a growing body of evidence that terroir can indeed be fundamentally important for producing high quality…even great…wines.

The science of geology includes understanding the formation of the mountains, valleys and plains upon which vineyards grow, the climatic and geographic dynamics that effect the rocks and soils in those areas, and the chemistry of the groundwaters and soils into which the vines send their roots. It is the fundamental science, along with biology, that can help answer many, and hopefully most, but never all, of the questions we ask ourselves about the connection between the earth and the vine, leading to that glass of wine… It therefore encompasses a significant portion of the concept of terroir.

I will be writing a series of papers that explore the results of geoscience research, as well as the insights and perceptions of wine experts, in order to address some intriguing and controversial viniculture issues. These issues can be expressed by such questions as:

  • What is terroir?
  • Can terroir be detected in wine?
  • Can rock or soil be tasted in wine?
  • How critically important is soil to wine quality?
  • How much can soils be changed/managed as to yield high quality wines?

While these papers may not be able to come to any incontrovertible conclusions as the current state of understanding on any of these issues, they will hopefully be thought provoking, contain potentially new information and insights, and be a valuable resource and reference for fellow oenophiles. Relatedly, I will also produce a list of the references used in the papers, as a further aid to those who might wish to read the original research, and possibly follow up more deeply on any area of particular interest.

© By Michael Shea, PhD