Rathfinny Wine Estate

Without Soil Where Would We Be?

Wine writer Hugh Johnson once called vineyard soil “the unseen dankness where the vine roots suck.” It is an often forgotten part of our process.  I recently attended a seminar on the subject of soil, which got me to thinking about the many different facets of soil and why it is so fascinating.

Ok, so not everyone finds soil interesting, but consider this:

  • To the farmer, soil is where crops grow.
  • To the engineer, soil is a foundation on which to build.
  • To the ecologist, soil supports and connects the ecosystems.
  • To the archaeologist, soil holds clues to past cultures.
  • to crafts people, like potters, soil provides clay to make things.
  • Soil is all of these and more. Soil has been called “the skin of the earth” because it is the thin outermost layer of the Earth’s crust.
  • Like our own skin, we can’t live without soil.
  • Soil is the basis for all life on earth, not only delivering 90% of the food produced it most importantly delivers ALL the wine.

And through the complexities of soil we get different characteristics in our wine.

Soil (or more specifically vineyard site) is part of the trilogy of what makes a great wine, the other two pieces of the puzzle being grape variety and human input.

In a vineyard site there will always be a troublesome patch that under performs or an area that consistently produces a higher quality than those around it.

Given that if the varieties and clones are the same, this will most likely be down to soil.

While we say that here at Rathfinny we have between 15 and 30cm of topsoil over a chalk base, the truth of the matter is there is variation through the fields. Not just physically but biologically, and chemically. We are trying to work around this variation by setting up our blocks with the help of surveying the soil prior to planting.

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The guys from Soilquest have just been on-site to EC map our upcoming planting. What this does is build up an accurate field map of soil variation and nutrient status by measuring electrical conductivity to two depths; we then analyze representative soil samples from each soil type zone.

This enables us to pinpoint areas of similar soil type when we set out our blocks and in turn maintain a more even and easier to manage block.

A true farmer doesn’t just grow crops, but farms the soil.

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By Cameron Roucher

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