A number of years ago when I finished a photo shoot at Bethel Heights winery in the Eola Hills, Pat Dudley offered me a taste of their Pinot noir. First she poured some Pinot from the Flat Block part of their vineyard. mmm.... good. Immediately afterward she poured Pinot from the next block over–the Southeast Block. "Wait a minute, these taste different," I said tentatively. So the two vineyard blocks are separated by only 20 feet. Otherwise the two wines were made the same way, same winemaker, same everything, except the vineyard block.
So what could make them taste so different?
Winemaker Terry Casteel explained that the soils of the two blocks were formed by separate volcanic events. He conjectured that there must have been one volcanic flow, followed by another which didn't cover the first. So in fact, the soils were slightly different. What a taste bud awakening that was.
(You will be able to read about these volcanic flows out of eastern Oregon–probably the greatest geologic event of its kind our earth has ever seen–in my upcoming book: Oregon The Taste of Wine due out in October.)
One of the people I interviewed for the book, Scott Burns, geology professor at Portland State University, claims that he can taste whether a Willamette Valley wine was made from grapes grown in either of the two major Willamette soil types: Jory (volcanic) or Willakenzie (ocean-bottom sedimentary).
Jim Kakacek, winemaker and general manager at Van Duzer winery, is a bit more skeptical about tasting soil types in the wine. He says that the taste differences might reflect factors like soil water retention. He does concede that the science is still out.
So can you taste the dirt in wine?