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Understanding Vineyard Soils$
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Robert E. White

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199342068

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199342068.001.0001

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Site Selection and Soil Preparation

Site Selection and Soil Preparation

(p.30) 2 Site Selection and Soil Preparation
Understanding Vineyard Soils

Robert E. White

Oxford University Press

As outlined in chapter 1, “determining the site” in old established wine regions such as Burgundy, Tuscany, and the Rheingau has been achieved through centuries of acquired knowledge of the interaction between climate, soil, and grape variety. Commonly, vines were planted on the shallow soils of steep slopes, leaving the more productive lower terraces and flood plains for the cultivation of cereal crops and other food staples, as shown, for example, by the vineyards along the Rhine River in Germany. The small vineyard blocks of the Rhine River, the Côte d’Or, Valais and Vaud regions of Switzerland allowed winegrowers to dif­ferentiate sites on the basis of the most favorable combination of local climate and soil, which underpinned the concept of terroir. In much of the New World, by contrast, where agricultural land was abundant and population pressure less, vineyards have been established on the better soils of the plains and river valleys, as exemplified by such regions as the Central Valley of California, the Riverina in New South Wales, Australia, and Marlborough in New Zealand. Apart from the availability of land, the overriding factor governing site selection was climate and the suitability of particular varieties to the prevailing regional climate. In such regions, although soil variability undoubtedly occurred, plantings of a single variety were made on large areas and vineyard blocks managed as one unit. Soil type and soil variability were largely ignored. Notwithstanding this approach to viticulture in New World countries, in recent time winegrowers aiming at the premium end of the market have become more focused on matching grape varieties to soil and climate and adopting winemaking techniques to attain specific outcomes for their products. For established vineyards, one obvious result of this change is the appearance of “single vineyard” wines that are promoted as expressing the sense of place or terroir. Another reflection of this attitudinal change is the application of precision viticulture (see “Managing Natural Soil Variability in a Vineyard,” chapter 6), whereby vineyard management and harvesting are tailored to the variable expression of soil and local climate in the yield and sensory characteristics of the fruit and wine.

Keywords:   California Sprawl, Heathcote region, McLaren Vale region, Rhine River, bioclimatic indices, fumigation, homoclimes, loam soil, macroclimate, sodic soil

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