The Soil Doctor

We are fortunate that our activities on the Black Sage Bench have piqued the interest of renowned soil consultant Dr. Paul Anamosa, who has analyzed and evaluated vineyard soils in many prestigious wine regions. This week, Paul is leading a digging expedition to assist with the development of two new properties on the Black Sage Bench. The plan is to dig two pits per acre, each five feet in depth, to evaluate soil texture and structure as well as nutrient availability. In short, we’re trying to answer: what’s the soil like?

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Broadly speaking, soil analysis matters for two reasons. The first is to identify plots that share common soil characteristics. We can then design the vineyard so that the soil in each block is as uniform as possible. This, much like using only one clone, best ensures vines will ripen at an even pace. As Dr. Anamosa maintains, “Great wines are not made with grapes that have a broad variance of ripeness.”

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Second, Dr. Anamosa’s analysis will allow us to make more informed choices in the vineyard design on a block-by-block basis. Soil characteristics will influence factors such as row spacing, vine density, trellising, rootstock selection, and irrigation. Ultimately, we want to work with – not against – what nature has provided. “Moving and sculpting soil is great for airports, roads, and strip-malls,” says Dr. Anamosa – “not vineyards.”

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It’s a time-consuming process. Dr. Anamosa examines the physical structure of the soil in every pit. In total, he will evaluate 45 pits over three days. He then draws soil samples from different layers of the soil profile to be analyzed by an accredited lab.

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Soil samples from three layers (0-22cm, 22-55cm, and 55-120cm) in pit number 22

From our experience on the Black Sage Bench, we know these two properties are ideally suited to late ripening varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Dr. Anamosa’s analysis will help us fine-tune our planting decisions.

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