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Four Reasons to Love Volcanic Soils

Kevin Peterson

Nearly all of the vines around the world are planted in sedimentary rock: geological formations millennia in the making. A prime example is the Kimmeridgian Chain that stretches across eastern Loire, southern Champagne & into Chablis, composed of marl, chalky limestone & crushed seashells.

Due to the nature of tectonic plates and their (usually) indiscernibly slow progress, geological formations such as the Kimmeridgian Chain cannot exactly be waited upon to pop up and offer their goods. However, there is as relatively quick fix to this problem, and it involves those terrific movements that cause volcanoes to erupt. Indeed, volcanic soils are hot right now. And it would behoove you to pay attention to the vines they’re producing.

1. Volcanic Soils Are Fertile Relatively Quickly After an Eruption

The short of it goes like this: the minerals in extrusive igneous rocks (lava that has cooled and hardened on the earth’s surface) are readily broken down into their elemental parts, a process initiated by chemical reactions between the minerals and the heat of the sun, for example. When these minerals breakdown, they release nutrients that are critical for plant life. Therefore, a process that takes millennia in a sedimentary rock like limestone occurs relatively quickly (several decades) in volcanic soils.

2. Volcanic Soils Are Loaded With Minerals and Nutrients

Not only do volcanic soils contain readily broken-down minerals, they are also packed full of them. This means volcanic soils are abundant in nutrients. And soils that are abundant in nutrients produce rich, weighty, ripe grapes that in turn produce aromatic, mineral-driven wines with great texture and aging potential.

3. Volcanic Soils Drain Water Well, Forcing Vines to Put Roots Deep into the Soil

Roots ought to dig for their water. Since Volcanic soils drain well, vines are forced to shoot roots deep into the earth where they absorb a diverse assortment of minerals and nutrients. The result is an altogether healthier plant that dedicates its energy to producing concentrated fruit as opposed to those leafy vines that spend their time dipping their toes in the pool.

4. Great, Affordable Wines Are Produced From Volcanic Soils

Certainly there is a sense of pedigree attached to the winemakers who are so fortunate as to have vines planted in the monumental soils of the Kimmeridgian Chain. Volcanic sites like Mount Etna are not so universally celebrated. And therefore the wines produced there aren’t nearly as expensive. Nevertheless, excellent, singular wine is produced in Sicily and other hot spots where volcanic soils mark the terrain.

In addition to Mount Etna in Sicily, the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco and Santorini of Greece are great places to seek out some inexpensive, awesome volcanic wines.

For an easily digestible introduction to soil composition click here:

And check out issue 11 of Noble Rot for an entertaining, in-depth look at volcanic soils, available now at the shop.