Of all the factors that people declare contribute to the flavor found in a bottle of wine, it’s hard to think of one that isn’t grounded in place. Soil type, geology, climate, microclimate, average rainfall, length of day, intensity of sun, wildfires, landscape contours, high and low temperatures, companion plants and animals, even grape varietal, ripeness and sugar content — in that they are informed by these same geographic and climatic conditions — are all rooted in the same place as the grapevine itself. Even more esoteric aspects, like rhizosphere and phyllosphere microbiota, have emerged as agents of influence over detectable differences in flavor profile. These, too, exist in a certain place, as a result of a complexity of elusive overlapping conditions in time and space. Scientists are just now
learning how to quantify the way these microbes, on their infinitesimal scale, impact not only what we define as the quality of a wine, but the health of a vineyard’s ecosystem, and thus the livelihood of the growers and vintners themselves. The question on every grower’s mind these days seems to be: How do these invisible creatures affect the quality of my wine, and what can I do to make them happy?
In our last post,
we explored how scientific research and technology has until recently focused largely on measuring climate and plants, due to the facts that aboveground metrics are more tangible, exist on a recognizable scale, and are plainly easier to see, therefore analyze. Established soil science stood relatively unchallenged for several centuries, folding seamlessly into the postindustrial processes that allowed farmers to grow their enterprises to achieve unprecedented yields. This worked by dissecting dirt into a simple amalgamation of chemical components that could be managed by isolated fertilizer inputs, and from a growth mindset, worked very well.