Do limestone soils really make a difference to wines?
Even for the most die-hard of wine fans, soil types probably aren’t going to be a topic you bring up at dinner parties.
Unless you want your guests to make excuses and leave pretty sharpish, anyway. But, when it comes to soils like limestone, they can actually make a huge difference when it comes to wine.
Limestone wines, or wines crafted in limestone coast wine regions, are rated as among the best in the world, and for good reason. Champagne, Chablis, Saint-Emilion – a whole boatload of the top-rated wine regions in France have the limestone soils necessary to create some pretty kick-ass wine. And – lucky for you New World Wine Warriors – a heap of New World wine regions have limestone soils, too.
What’s so good about limestone?
Without getting into too much geology, limestone soil is able to retain water better than a lot of others. It’s also fantastic at draining, meaning it’s really a soil for all seasons. Limestone soils are rich in something called calcium carbonate, which gets created from the decayed plants and shells that formed the soil in the first place.
And, as it turns out, calcium is very, very important for great wine. There’s evidence to suggest that it helps vines resist disease, meaning grapes are able to stay on the vine longer, and become robust and juicy, with more time for flavours and colours to develop. But, the calcium also makes sure they keep those lovely acid levels that make wine taste so good.
How? Calcium carbonate acts as an antacid. When organic compost breaks down in soil, it creates a lot of acid, which can damage the nutrients that are pretty essential to the vine – and more importantly, its grapes – thriving. The calcium in limestone stops this from happening. Pretty fabulous, right?
Enjoy limestone wines
Right, then. If you’re completely sold (and IMO, you should be), you’ll of course be thinking it’s high time to stock up your cellars with some delicious limestone wines.
Of course, good things come in small packages – these soils are pretty rare to find outside France, although some can be found in California (around Santa Cruz, to be specific). And, luckily for us, some limestone coast wine regions exist in Australia and NZ, too. You can meet some of our favourites below…
Pyramid Valley is a magical place, where magnificent native birds once roamed and soared, and where the earth produces in abundance. This unique site of limestone slopes and rich soils in Waikari is home to some of the most profound Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines in the world.
Craggy Range’s Te Muna Road vineyard, located some 7km outside of Martinborough, is comprised of two terraces: one of old, stony clay-infused soils, and the other of stony soils interleaved with limestone. The latter provides perfect growing conditions for their steely, mineral Sauvignon Blancs, which boast subtle aromatics and an elegant finish.
Bell Hill Vineyard occupies a unique site in the Weka Pass, North Canterbury, atop an old lime quarry. Maori rock art from millennia ago can be found along the pass, although vines weren’t planted here until Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen took over in 1997. Vineyards are modelled on the high-density plantings of Burgundy, and focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Here, the limestone soils give rise to some truly astonishing wines, notable in particular for their mineral cores.