Will You Accept Salinity in Your Red Wine?


If you spend any amount of time with winemakers, it becomes pretty clear, pretty quick that they’re pretty much obsessed with soil composition.  Vines have to struggle to grow well after all.  But, how about different soil types that aren’t found in France?  Here in California it’s referred to as “sandy loam” but really we’re talking about vineyards planted in soil that includes some sand that happens to be close to the beach. It’s a different soil composition than we might be accustomed to, it imparts an element of salinity to the wine in question. For white wine, salinity seems cool with consumers, but for Pinot Noir we’re just starting to explore the possibilities and those are largely centered around Monterrey.

Video Transcription:

Hi guys, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures. I’m gonna hold this up so you can get a good look at it. So this is the Paraiso Monterey Pinot from 2014. But in this case I don’t think the wine actually matters that much. So let’s set it aside.

So we’re gonna talk really quickly. So Monterey is kind of at the forefront of a different movement in the wine industry that I haven’t talked about at all. And so we have to take a step back first and say, “What’s the one part of the industry that consumers don’t talk about that winemakers talk about incessantly?” And you know, that might be yeast. But it’s also soil composition. So if you were to give a winemaker a million dollars and tell him to go buy a vineyard, he’s gonna look around and he’s going to try to find the worst damn soil he can find. You know, we learn most of what we can from France when it comes to making wine in the United States. And for them, that means limestone and limestone really drains well and it’s a rock obviously. But it’s a porous enough rock that vine roots can go through the rock at times and get kind of even deeper into the ground. And those are all really good things.

In California, you don’t have much limestone. There is a few quarries here and there but it’s not the overall arching effect that it is in much of Europe. So you look for other rocks and other bad soil basically. Good soil produces too many grapes. Too many grapes leads to less dense and interesting flavor combinations. So in California we do have one terrible soil type that we’re still kind of figuring out, “Can we make wine from this?” And that’s called sandy loam. In essence, it’s sand. So Monterey’s kind of at the forefront of this. How much sand in soil composition can we accept? And really the question comes for consumers. How much salinity will you accept in your wine?

For white wines, it’s seems like there’s quite a bit that people will say, “Okay, I actually like this.” And there’s kind of a salt water hint here at the end, on the finish. But for Pinot, is it okay? You know, will people accept a salinity aspect to their Pinot Noir? TO this point, a lot of people have said, “No, I don’t think they’re going to.” Over the past few years, winemakers and growers have started planting closer and closer to the ocean. It’s kind of the cool climate effect that’s happened and you know, the cooler climate spots in California are closer to the beach. Closer to the beach means more sand. So you kind of have this dichotomy of, “We want cooler vintage sites but we don’t want any sand.”

So that’s kind of the debate that’s happening is, as we want cooler vineyard sites, will we accept salinity in our wines that comes from this sandy loam soil? And if so, how much? And so for some folks it’s like, “Well, a little bit so you can put your hand down on, and pick it up next to the vine, that’s fine.” And for other folks, the Paraiso and there’s a couple other vineyards that I’ve talked to folks recently about, and they say, “Look you can walk around barefoot and it’s comfortable.” And so that’s kind of the question. So once again, Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures and I hope everybody’s having a good week so far.

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