Foothill Wineries Leverage a Lithology Legend™

By: Taylor Ziolkowski

Close your eyes, take a sip, and allow yourself to be taken back— back in time over 60 million years ago. On the surface, the landscape is rapidly changing. To the east, the mighty Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is slowly beginning to take shape. At their base, the Sierra Foothills begin developing staggering topography, shaped by young streams and orogenic lifting. For the next 58 million years, erosion and uplift take hold, producing the rich, unique topsoils we have today.

As an avid wine enthusiast and student of geology, my appreciation for viniculture stems far beyond the advent of modern tech. There are characteristics in each wine that embody a sense of place— a place in geologic time overlain by a geographic landscape. These qualities, passed through root and vine, represent a time that long precedes the Sierra Foothill wine-making culture. As such, the combination of volcanic, granitoid, and shale-based soils give growers the chance to cultivate the full bodied Cabs, tannic Syrahs, and pepper-laiden Zins that connoisseurs of the region know and love. The large scale soil composition of the foothill region boasts a clay rich loam littered with aggregate, an ideal medley of material perfectly suited for water percolation and nutrient uptake. Going a step further, the soil structure forms a quintessential marriage with noticeable traces of hornblende, iron ferrite, and feldspar— all beneficial minerals in the growth of fruit, and development of a rich flavor profile.

Now, close your eyes once more, and take another sip. As the wine moves throughout your palate, envision 60 million years of geomorphologic processes shaping the land we can see, and that we cannot. The wine flowing over your tongue has been over 60 million years in the making. From subterranean volcanics, to wind, rain and fluvial systems—these processes carefully and chaotically constructed our Sierra Foothill wine country. The erosive decay of past and present parent rock formations constitutes a soil composition unlike any other; offering foothill winemakers the opportunity to create world renown, award winning wines.

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