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Video,Wine

How a Soil Monolith Is Constructed

How a soil monolith is constructed by Paul Anamosa and his crew from Vineyard Soil Technologies is a very labor intensive job. So much so that Paul isn’t really looking to mass produce these works of art. He prefers the pace that he currently has, which is about one a month. Once the following pictorial steps are done (below), Paul then has many stages of glue applications to encase these layers of soil remain in a perfect condition, which makes them display worthy.

Honestly, his collection would be a great art exhibit, in my humble opinion. To see how our layers of soil go deep into the earth and what they contain on the way down is fascinating. The American Museum of Natural History in New York City would be a great place for an exhibit on geology, since the earth supports all things above and below ground, to see what we’re standing on – really standing on, not just a drawing rendering – is part of who we all are and what we depend upon for support, in so many ways.

Our client The Rubin Family of Wines has had two soil monoliths completed from his Green Valley of Russian River Valley vineyard. What you’re seeing here is the first one. On the day of the second dig, once that was completed, Paul and his crew hung this one; the winery’s project.

Paul told me that he’s very excited to have had the opportunity to slice into the earth in this vineyard, because he’s yet to have a Goldridge soil sampling. For a geologist, this is akin to having an unexpected birthday present delivered to his doorstep. Until a tractor digs this deeply, one can only imagine, based on all scientific evidence… But to see it, to actually grasp it… it’s a rare gift seen by only a few.

This is why I believe this would make both a great artistic and a geological exhibit. Anyone with any scientific curiosity about our earth’s layers would welcome the opportunity to see a slice of Mother Earth, based on the progression of differing soil types. Visually, it helps us to better understand how our earth was formed. Also, to see how our grape vines grow in these earth types is a wonder that they can grow at all.

Seeing this Monolith on the wall, and then looking at this second dig site, tells the real story of the enormity of the work involved. This is a huge commitment to slice away a piece of work, which then demonstrates the soil’s composition in minerality.

I once had an old farmer friend Mr. Dumont (in his early 90s, who had been farming all of his life) tell me not to water in Maine garden. He told me that without water, roots naturally go deep into the earth, searching for a water supply. To water my plants, he said, would cause a shallow root system and plants that wouldn’t be strong. I took his advice, which worked in Maine. It’s tougher in California to do that, based on our soil types out here… Not the same as Maine at all. I’ve yet to grow any decent tomatoes out here, when I could put up 36 quarts in Maine in one summer alone.

Paul and I talked about the fact that Goldridge soil is very loose and sandy, which makes any water just filter right down through the earth. It has great drainage, so how much can the roots of these plants gather? Some irrigation is required.

Lori Knapp, Ron Rubin’s operations manager, was there to witness this first Monolith process and she documented it photographically. I asked her for her thoughts:

“The concept of a soils monolith is fabulous because it embodies art, nature and science all in one, as does the process of making wine.   Now we can use our soils monolith to show the unique character of Goldridge soil found in the Green Valley while we share the distinctive flavors and terroir of our Green Valley wines.”

Understanding soils does help, in my opinion to understand flavors. I once had viticulturist Hector Bedolla of Crop Production Services tell me, while on a vineyard tour on Bradford Mountain, “See this red soil? It’s filled with iron oxide. This is what makes zinfandel so spicy.” It was then that I first connected soil’s minerals to a crop’s flavors. It was the beginning of my understanding terroir.

The Process of a Soil Monolith

We visit the winery property, and dig a hole 6 feet deep, by 3 feet wide, and about 8 feet long (a typical evaluation pit). We then smooth one side of the pit and press a frame into the side. We then dig out the soil on the other side of the frame while wrapping the frame and soil in shrink-wrap. We finally get all 5 feet of frame and soil isolated, and then bundle it, and truck it out. It goes back to our work shop where it is hardened with a non-toxic glue and then glued onto a piece of plexiglass. We have used tempered glass on the first few, but feel that with the ever present threat of earthquakes, we did not want to have glass shards flying though tasting rooms if they shattered.

For a winery owner, to see one’s own soil is this side of miraculous, in my humble opinion. You see what you have, and it’s very easily explained to others. Some of us are visual learners, and in many instances I am. With this monolith I get it. For me, being there for the second digging really drove a lot home. Once schist was hit… to the depth of this slicing, that was it… Schist is a metamorphic rock. If you were a tiny hair-like root, do you think you’d make it through the rock, or would you believe that a certain amount of irrigation is necessary for this particular vineyard?

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