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Vineyards, Rocks, and SoilsThe Wine Lover's Guide to Geology$
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Alex Maltman

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190863289

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190863289.001.0001

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Vineyards and the Mists of Geological Time

Vineyards and the Mists of Geological Time

11 Vineyards and the Mists of Geological Time
Vineyards, Rocks, and Soils

Alex Maltman

Oxford University Press

Geological time is much mentioned in the wine world. Many a label proclaims the geological age of the rocks and soils in which the vines were growing; many a vineyard description enthuses about just how old its bedrock is. The age may be expressed as a fine-sounding technical term or as a quantity, typically, some unimaginably large number of millions of years: “The area’s best vineyards are on Turonian soils“; “Cretaceous limestone is best for our vines“; “the wine’s secret is the Devonian slate“; “our Shiraz grows in soils 500 million years old.” It’s almost as though the older the geology can be made to appear, somehow the finer the wine. I must declare my own position in all this: surely the geological age of the bed-rock has little to do with viticulture? The age of the soil is certainly relevant, as it is continually changing on a human timescale, but these geological time words almost always are referring to the age of the vineyard bedrock. And almost invariably the age of the soil will be unrelated and vastly younger than the bedrock. Surely the vine doesn’t care, so to speak, how long ago the bedrock happened to form. Nevertheless, the fact is that geological time pervades wine literature, so this chapter explains how geologists work with the ages of rocks. The thinking is nicely explained by outlining how geological time was “discovered.” Modern geology began two or three centuries ago, essentially when it dawned that answers to questions about the physical world were better answered by going out and observing nature rather than poring over ancient scriptures. We saw in Chapter 1 how James Hutton peered into the “abyss of time.” Soon after, other founders of the science began to compare features preserved in rocks with processes they could see happening all around them, and they were able to establish rules (see the accompanying box) that enabled them to disentangle past geological time and to work out the geological history of a particular place. Using these kinds of principles, the early geologists were soon able to recognize past intervals of geological time and give them names.

Keywords:   Chalk (the geologic formation), Helvetian, Muschelkalk, Serravalian, Tortonian, fossil, primary rock, strata, time (geological)

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