When we think about all the factors that shape our experience of wine – climate conditions, sun exposure, irrigation, yeast selection, vine treatments, natural and chemical additives – it is easy to conjure up an image of vineyards, barrels of wine fermenting in a cellar, a winemaker testing for quality and deciding when to bottle the latest vintage.
What is harder to imagine is another factor, literally millions of years in the making, determined long before wine – or even humans – existed on the earth: soil.
How much impact does soil really have on a wine, and how can we understand that impact?
Luiz Alberto, writer behind The Wine Hub blog and founder of the #winelover virtual community, explains it this way: “Arguably, the 2 most important factors of a soil, for the purpose of growing grapes and making wine, are its structure and texture. These two components will cause a vine to grow and produce grapes differently. In principle, the percentages of clay, sand, silt, loam, and rock present in the soil will determine the grape varieties that would be well suited to produce grapes of the best quality for that specific site.”
According to Alberto, the composition of the soil determines which wines are best suited to a specific sites, which is why certain regions and even certain plots of land come to be closely associated with a specific grape variety.
Soil may be one of the reasons why Le Marche is the ideal home of the Verdicchio grape – and one of the factors that makes Pievalta’s San Paolo Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva DOCG so exquisite.
The San Paolo vineyard is located on Monte Follonica in the town of Cupramontana, in the province of Ancona, indicated in light blue on this map:
The soils there are rather loose, characterized by sandstone that dates back to the Pliocene era – 2.5-5.3 million years ago. In antiquity, the area was covered by the Adriatic sea, and the currents of sand that formed these soils came mostly from the Alpine range.
According to the “Strada del Gusto” website of the comune of Cupramontana, the grapes of this zone maintain a bright freshness and intriguing salinity. This helps explain the principal characteristics of Riserva San Paolo; these soils yield extremely complex wines, with a long finish and deep notes of ripe fruit and honey.
While there are some who dispute the importance of soil in shaping the profile of a wine, others, like Alberto, agree that the uniqueness of each plot of soil is that certain X factor that makes great wines truly one-of-a-kind:
“Even if some specialists will argue that the influence of the soil is not as dramatic in wine quality as those presented by the climatic conditions of a region … to a certain extent soil can influence wine quality with its own positive or negative characteristics and the viticultural practices used to optimize the positive ones, and reduce or even eliminate the negative traits,” Alberto writes.
In the case of Pievalta, nature and culture combine in a remarkable way: methodical biodynamic winemaking principles put into practice on a territory characterized by ancient, high quality soils perfectly suited to Le Marche’s native grapes.