Wine and Soil
Organic Wine Tasting
Friday 6th November
£17 before Friday 30th October
42-46 Bethel Street
Norwich NR2 1NR
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
0 Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Soil beneath it all. Beneath it all, soil.
It can be hard to remember, as we walk over concrete, or drive over tarmac. As we eat processed foods from plastic packaging, or buy fresh produce from shelves suspended in space.
But life emanates from the soil, and life returns to the soil. And so do we.
It’s no surprise that ‘earth’ is a synonym for soil; after all, our life on this planet depends on our respectful interaction with it. Odd, then, that we don’t prioritise the health of it. Odd, then, that our prevailing agricultural system reduces its fertility.
Organic farming, by contrast, seeks to increase the fertility of the soil, encouraging abundant microbial life, allowing the earth to find its own fertile equilibrium. Which it is capable of doing, of course – that’s how human life got as far as 1950.
Our modern love of time and labour saving chemical sprays has locked us into a cycle of chemical dependency. But in viticulture (the practise of growing grapes), the wind may be changing direction. The decreased health of vines, and the increased cost of chemical applications weigh against the saved labour costs. After all, a healthy and flavoursome crop of wine grapes has the potential to fetch a premium price, in a way unique amongst agricultural products. The spur to change to organic, for many grape growers and wine producers, is the diminishing fertility of their soils.
For most agricultural products, the more nutrients you can give your soil, and the greater the yield of crop, the better. But grapes intended for good wine have slightly different criteria. If our topsoil is abundantly fertile, the vine will produce lots of foliar growth, and insipid fruit. Wine producers want their vines to have to journey deep into the soil in search of nutrients, making the vine stronger, curbing foliar growth as the vine puts more energy into ripening its fruit, and encouraging a deeper relationship between vine and soil, increasing a sense of terroir – how a wine reflects the unique conditions of its microclimate.
Grapes, of course, can be grown in many different soils, from the Kimmeridgean limestone clay of Chablis, Champagne and southern England to the rocky gravels of Bordeaux. On November 6th, we will explore the impact soil type, texture and fertility has on wine. We’ll journey along the Loire, and try three white wines as we go. Domaine de l’Ecu’s expansive Muscadet is from siliceous soil, whilst Vignobles Dauny’s Sancerres are an interesting exposition of our theme. Three main soil types dominate the Sancerre region, and most producers with vineyards of differing soils blend the grapes together. The Daunys, by contrast, keep them separate – so we can see the impact ‘les caillottes’ (“little pebbles”) and ‘terres blanches’ (“white earth”) have on the same grape variety grown in the same climate.
We’ll journey south to the Rhône for our first red, made from Syrah and Grenache grown on the fertile alluvial soils by the banks of the River Ouvèze, which dries up each summer. Then we’ll take a high speed train over the Alps to Piedmont, where we’ll find discover the symbiosis between soil type and grape variety. Erbaluna’s blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo is from grapes grown on marly soil; this promotes, and supports, late ripening, and few varieties ripen later than Nebbiolo. Then we’ll cross the Atlantic for our final wine, the unusual, if not unique, fortified Malbec, from sandy, rocky soils low in organic matter, which create some desirable vine stress.
Our wine tastings are informal and sociable affairs, where both oenophiles and absolute beginners can relax and enjoy themselves. A taster plate of seasonal organic food sourced from Folland Organics will add a little sustenance, whilst supporting our local sustainable agriculture.
The evening’s wines in full:
1) Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Domaine de l’Ecu AOC 2013
(Loire Valley, France. 12% abv., shop price £11.95)
2) Sancerre ‘Les Caillottes’, AOC 2014
(Loire Valley, France. 12.5% abv., shop price £15.25)
3) Sancerre ‘Terres Blanches’, AOC 2013
(Loire Valley, France. 12.5%, £16.25)
4) Vin de pays de Vaucluse ‘Le Cadet’, Montirius 2013
(Rhône Valley, France. 13%, £11.50)
5) Vino Rosso ‘Elia’, Erbaluna 2011
(Piedmont, Italy, 15%, £13.50)
6) Fortified Malbec Bousquet 2013
(Tupungato Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 18%, £13.95 (500ml)).
Feedback from ‘(Re)Discover Italy’, our most recent organic wine tasting:
‘Friendly, relaxed, fun & informative’
‘Very good – interesting & unusual’
‘Nice balance of information, wine, food & chat’