Volcanic Wines: The Delicious Results of a Volcano
Volcanos: Bad News
When a volcano eruption is the featured story on television news and headlines online weather apps – it is usually bad news. People abandon their homes and holiday adventures to seek shelter from the lava and the huge crevice’s that open the ground. On average, somewhere on Earth, there are between 50-60 erupting volcanoes each year or about 1 per week; a few of Earth’s volcanoes may erupt within days or hours of each other.
Local residents are most likely to die from volcano activity, while visitor groups including scientists, tourists, the media and emergency responders have been involved in 823 fatalities, 76 percent of which occurred within 3.1 miles or inside the caldera.
Volcanos: Good News
Although volcanic soils account for only 1 percent of the world’s surface, the soils contribute a much larger percentage to creating the world’s vineyards. The terroir produced by volcanos are preserving unique, indigenous grapes that deliver international varietals such as chardonnay and cabernet. The layers of volcanic ash and pumice have also limited the spread of the phylloxera bug that destroyed a wide swath of Europe’s vineyards in the 19th century.
The volcanic soil (lava, pumice, ash, basalt) delivers minerality to the wines as well as complex aromas, with high acidity, salty, savory, spicy, slight smokiness, umami, and earthy experiences are intrigue the palate. Because the porous soil stores water, there is a freshness and exuberance inherent to the wines.
Experts believe that volcanic wines exude quality. “The aroma, structure and acidity of these grapes is perfect,” according to Tibor Gal, owner, Gal Tibor Winery (Hungary). He also finds that, “Not only the quantity, but also the ratio of tartaric, malic and citric acid content is really stable every year. Volcanic wines are not only drinkable when they are fresh, but you can age them for 10 to 20 years and the wine (both red and white) is still in perfect condition.”
The Science Connection: Rocks and Grapes
When the conversation has a volcanic – wine focus, it is not unusual to find geologists and other scientists at the center as wine carries hundreds of years of the Earth’s history into the glass. Consider, for example, a bottle of wine from Italy. The wine is a mélange of grapes, water and climate combined with the pruning and harvesting by the field workers, and the expertise of the vintner. Beyond all of this, it is the soil that starts in the hills, made from ancient oceanic crusts, that determines the final quality of the wine.
It is the science of geology that takes a deep look into history and it is the geologist, intimately engaged in the wine business, who is able to provide advice on the best sites for planting and provide remote-sensory imagery for grape viniculture. The geologist focuses on the terroir (soil, climate, environment), that shapes the taste of the wine.
It is also the geologist who takes a 3-dimensional picture of the vineyard and researches the vine roots that penetrate far down into the soil, potentially finding deeply buried soil types that are different than surface soil.
Soil scientists are consulted to determine the best places to plant vines and hydrologists identify the best water sources, usage and preservation. Many wineries in the USA are located on thick alluvial deposits on valley floors, unlike traditional hillside plantings of European vineyards and it is extremely important to factor in the wine’s place of origin…in fact, it may be of more importance than the grape variety for unique geological attributes may justify a premium price.
Vines get most of their nourishment from a depth that extends down to 0.6 m; however, most of the time, the water is from as far down as 2 m. During periods of drought they draw enough water from >2 m. If there is a deep cover of drift or a deep soil horizon, geologic influences on vines will be small. Even if the soil is thin, geology will, in many areas where vines are grown, only control the quality of the grapes indirectly through influence on soil composition, geomorphology and water retention.
2nd Annual International Volcanic Wine Conference (IVWC)
To bring attention of the unique quality of volcanic wines John Szabo, Canada’s first Master Sommelier, recently convened a group of wine experts, wineries, scientists, wine buyers/sellers, educators and journalists to explore the history and future of wines from regions of the world where volcanic soil produces uniquely interesting wines.
According to Szabo, volcanic soils nurture the world’s most prized coffee shrubs, intensely flavored vegetables and wine grapes. It is the, “…challenging topography and phylloxera-in-hospitable soils of many volcanic regions” that have saved rare, indigenous grape varieties that may have moved into extinction. Szabo believes that, “…volcanic wines represent a worthy collection of highly distinctive, individual expressions – stubborn holdouts in a world of merging flavors.”
Wines participating in the events were from Armenia, California, Chile, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Oregon, and Washington.
Curated Wines from Volcanic Soil
- Golan Heights Winery. Yarden Petit Verdot 2015 (Yarden is Hebrew for Jordan River, which bisects the Golan Heights from the Galilee).
The Galilee is the most northern and considered the best appellation in Israel. The highest quality area within the appellation is the Golan Heights, the coldest region in Israel. The vineyards on the volcanic plateau rise 1300 feet above sea level to 3900 feet and receive snowfall in the winter.
Although there were heavy rains in November, the winter experienced only 75 percent of normal precipitation. The spring was cool, and harvest started 10-14 days later than usual. The summer was warm, with the September the warmest ever recorded and included a historic dust storm. The 2015 Yarden Petit Verdot produced from fruit harvested from vineyards in the central and northern Golan, aged for 18 months in French oak barrels (40 percent news). The relatively cool climate and rocky volcanic soils deliver a classic and vibrant wine that can be attributed to 18 months of barrel aging.
Notes. Dark, ruby red to the eye trending to purple. Fruity (think blueberry, cranberry), leather, tobacco and spicy to the nose with berries that are soft and constrained with a hint of tannin sent to the palate. Delicious cherry finish. Good with burgers and roast beef sandwiches.
- Casillero del Diablo Devil’s Collection. Rapel Valley. 2016 Harvest.
At the end of the 19th century, Don Melcho de Concha y Toro had wines stolen from his wine cellar located under his family home. To discourage future thefts he spread a rumor that his deepest darkest cellars were haunted by the devil. Today, the wines and the Devil’s Cellar are Chile’s leading tourist destination.
Marcelo Papa has been the winemaker since 1998. In 2005 he was named Winemaker of the Year by the Chilean Wine Guide. Today, Casillero del Diablo produces premium quality Chilean wines.
Notes. This is a unique and innovative line of three premium wines made at the discretion of the winemaker. Riverbench and benchland soil, added in oak barrels.
Deep dark ruby red trending to purple in the glass, with the aroma of fruits (plums and blackcurrants) linked to black chocolate and coffee delivered to the nose. The palate finds plums and spice enhanced by toasty American oak with a soft, well-structured mouth-filling texture. Pair with sweet/sour Asian cuisine, or roast beef.
- The Event. 2nd Annual International Volcanic Wine Conference (IVWC) held in Manhattan
© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.