Clay, Gravel, Sand…does the terroir (soil) really have that much influence?

A well-attended Chateau Cheval Blanc ‘Tasting and blending exercise’ this week, organized by the delightful Richard Bampfield, demonstrated solid evidence of how soil has a fundamental impact on the qualities of the eventual fruit produced at their property.

In the vineyards of Chateau Cheval Blanc, they have 44 plots grown on sand, gravel and clay.   We tasted a serious of sample wines derived from each soil base.   Each wine had very different characteristics consistent with the soil content of each plot.

Vines grown in Sand in the Languedoc

Sand  –  Almost no retention of water, therefore the vine will continue to grow and grow and grow.  The vine needs constant attention to manage the growth.

Result?  Very high fruit yield and medium bodied wines.

Gravel – Less water retention, which can lead to the vine drying out or over-ripeness in fruit if not cared for.

Result?   Precise nose, complex aromas, full-bodied wines, great colour and quite high tannins

Clay – Retains the water, which you might think dangerous (vine saturation and rot) but the water is held ‘within’ the clay.  It doesn’t pool around the roots and stays away from the vine until such time it is called upon – essentially in the dry months – when there is sufficient residual moisture to drip-feed the vine and Result?   Smaller fruit, with a higher sugar level and great power.

Suffice to say that Ch Cheval Blanc and Petit Cheval (their second label) are largely made up of fruit grown on gravel and clay, with their sand-based fruit sold off in bulk.

I shall be testing the Cheval Blanc theory on my tomatoes this year and will revert back with my results in late summer.

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