This being early Spring, I thought it time to get really filthy for a change; thought it time to get your hands well and truly soiled.
When you are selecting a site for your vineyard, there's a lot to be said for dirt. Not only is it a fairly handy medium in which to stand trellis posts but it can also play a critical role in the quality of your fruit.
You see, vines will grow almost anywhere. This business about one area being able to produce wine while that one won't, is just another red herring. Wine grapes are grown and wine is produced in Alice Springs using similiar technology to that found in Griffith or Mudgee.
You'll find the winemakers of Griffith just as unimpressed with vintage rains as we are in Orange. There's not a lot anybody can do about bush-fires or hail, while floods and droughts are worrisome facts of rural life in Australia. And yet vineyards pop up all over the place, sometimes in the most unlikely sites.
Not all of them succeed, not all of them last for generations, but very few of them fail to make wine of some description or another.
The wonderful thing about wines is that no two are identical. Neighbouring wineries can try to level the playing field by growing the same variety on the same trellis, pruned to the same number of buds. They can tend the vines and pick the fruit on the same day; vintage techniques can be identical. And yet, they will make two sometimes quite different wines. These differences may be quite subtle, but they will be there nevertheless.
The French have been long convinced that the soil has a lot to do with it. While science tells us that climate is more important in the overall scheme of things, soil, in my opinion, is the vital link in the wine quality chain.
Our vineyard is planted on medium fertility gravelly soils over a friable, red clay base, the whole profile interspersed with limestone lenses and shale. Some of our more unkind colleagues refer to it as 'the quarry', and after a recent day on the crowbar in our new Pinot vineyard we took the hint. Explosives are not the way to impress neighbours on a sunny Sunday but they do make short work of stubborn gravelly postholes.
Why gravel? To make quality wines, you need quality grapes. And the critical parameter in such a cool climate as ours is ripeness. Unlike almost any other traditional Australian winegrowing area, acid and pH look after themselves in Orange. However, to make a high quality wine, grapes must ripen enough for flavour to complete the delicate fruit/acid balance in the finished product.
A deep, high fertility soil like some of the local, richer orcharding soils allows the mature vine to grow with so much vigour that, through shading and delayed ripening, optimium flavour ripenes may not always be achieved. Conversely, those soils which limit vigour, and, in traditional viticultural wisdom, make the vines work for their living, produce wines of more intense flavour and elegance. If you are about growing perfume, you are more likely to succeed in the hills of Na Trang than the swamps of the Mekong delta.
In quality viticulture then, under the sun, all soils ain't soils!