Tasting soils in Pinot noir wines of the Willamette valley, Oregon

The conventional wisdom of vintners is that alkalinity, and thus less sour and more rounded taste, are enhanced in wine and grapes challenged by low-nutrient soils. A common thread here is pH, an objectively measurable variable that is both a part of wine taste and a proxy for soil fertility. The role of low-pH soils is supported by metadata on Oregon wines from different soils in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, USA, which show significant inverse correlations between minimum pH of the soil and pH of finished Pinot Noir wine. There is also a direct correlation between depth of clayey horizons and pH of the finished wine.

The minimum pH of these soils is near the base of the clayey (Bw or Bt) horizon and is inversely correlated with depth of the clayey horizon. Low soil pH is found in thick middle Pleistocene soils of bedrock (Jory, Willakenzie, Laurelwood, and Bellpine soil series) and high soil pH in thin soils on late Pleistocene and Holocene Missoula Flood deposits and loess (Hazelair, Woodburn, and Chehulpum soil series). Similar relationships are found between soil pH or depth and the pH of grapes at harvest, which is lower and more varied than pH in finished wine. These relationships are especially notable in years of good harvest, but obscured by wine- making techniques in years of poor harvest. Good harvest years are not necessarily vintages esteemed by wine connoisseurs, which are more strongly correlated with low October precipitation.

Authors: Gregory J. Retallak (1) and Scott F. Burns (2)

(1) Dept. of Geological Sciences, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403, USA
(2) Dept. of Geology, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon 97207, USA

E-mail: gregr@uoregon.edu

Keywords: Pinot Noir, mineralogy, wine chemistry, soil chemistry, sensory analysis

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