HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us


Wine Columns

Wine Reviews

WineReviewOnline on Twitter

Critics Challenge

Distillers Challenge

San Diego Challenge

Sommelier Challenge


Winemaker Challenge

WineReviewOnline on Facebook

WineReviewOnline on Instagram

Columns – Wayne Belding

The Columbia River Basalts: Creating the Terroir of the Pacific Northwest
Wayne Belding
Jul 10, 2024

July 10, 2024: Geology informs not just of the rocks underlying the hillside, but why the hillside is there at all. Which of nature's powers combined to create the topography we observe today? If the soil is heavy with clay, how did the clay get there? It's not enough to know what is; we want to know why it is as well. In this essay, we will explore the geology of a now well-known wine producing region. The vineyards of Oregon and Washington are integral to understanding the subject of modern United States wine. That was not always the case. Even in 1980, there were only about 60 bonded wineries in Oregon and Washington combined. Compare that to the over 2000 wineries today and the growth of the region is impressive. This is clearly a habitat that benefits wine grapes and some of that beneficial environment is strongly influenced by the geology.

The Palouse: A Unique Terroir
Wayne Belding
May 29, 2024

May 29, 2024: The Palouse is a geographic region in eastern Washington and Oregon plus western Idaho that is among the more distinct geomorphic sites in North America. A journey to the Palouse will offer thousands of square miles of pillowy, rolling hills punctuated by steep valleys where rivers have incised the high plateau. It is now fertile agricultural land with extensive wheat fields dominating the landscape. The Walla Walla AVA lies within the Palouse and was established in 1984. There are now 120+ wineries in the region. Walla Walla wines are now well-known among wine lovers. What is less recognized is the unique sequence and scale of geologic events that has formed this enchanting landscape.

The Arroyo Seco AVA: Alluvial Forces on Display
Wayne Belding
Apr 17, 2024

April 17, 2024: There are approximately 150 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in California. Some, like Napa Valley, are very well known to people well beyond the wine trade. Others are hardly known at all. AVAs like Dos Rios, Cole Ranch and Covelo are scarcely recognized at all and have very few acres of vineyard. By that measure, Arroyo Seco has a long and storied viticultural history. The AVA is in the Salinas Valley of Monterey County, at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains. It is distinctive because it is directly related to the topographic and pedologic influence of fluvial systems - rivers and streams that form the land.

Revisiting Bordeaux Wines
Wayne Belding
Feb 21, 2024

Feb. 21, 2024: When I began my serious pursuit of wine knowledge some 40+ years ago, Bordeaux was the place I started. At that time, there were fewer options to try among imported wines. So, Bordeaux was a logical place to begin. You could purchase a bottle from a specific château - Château Talbot for example, find it on a map, and read about the grapes used and the history of previous vintages. Plus, you could count on trying the same estate wine from the next vintage. It was easier for a novice to understand than Burgundy, where dozens of producers could offer a wine with the same vineyard name, and a consumer needed much more knowledge to sort out the good from the indifferent. The more I investigated, the more intriguing the story became. Bordeaux was not a natural vine paradise. The famous gravel mounds in the vineyards of the Médoc were formed by repeated glacial floodwaters washing sediment seaward from the Massif Central and the Pyrenees. It took the efforts of Dutch engineers to build drainage canals that lowered the water table enough for any viticulture to work at all.

Wine Resolutions for the New Year
Wayne Belding
Jan 3, 2024

Jan. 3, 2024: With the advent of the new year, one's thoughts often turn to resolutions for the coming months. For those with a penchant for fine wine, here are some ways to indulge your resolute nature. Wine is a fascinating subject but can be frustrating and intimidating. It's easy to find yourself awash in a bewildering array of information about grape types, soils, vintages, producers and on and on. Additionally, it is easy to find a few wine brands that you like and stick with those, just to avoid the welter of wine facts and attendant confusion that sets in when you venture beyond the familiar. For the new year, however, you can resolve to try a new wine once a month, or week, or whatever time frame you prefer. To accomplish this, pick something that you are as unfamiliar with as possible.

Wine Regions of the West: Idaho Wine Country
Wayne Belding
Nov 8, 2023

Nov. 8, 2023: When people think of wine destinations in the United States, they consider sites in California, Oregon, Washington and maybe New York and Michigan. Few thoughts turn to vineyards in Idaho, but there are indeed vineyards and wineries in the Gem State, and they are well worth investigating. Idaho now has three AVAs with over 75 wineries. It's an easy trip to visit the Idaho wine country. Many wineries are easily accessible from Boise and the urban wine scene is thriving as well. There are fewer wineries in the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA in the north, but this is a fascinating area where the Snake River joins the Columbia River.

Tawny Pleasures
Wayne Belding
Aug 30, 2023

August 30, 2023: The world of Port wine changes slowly, but there have been a few modifications of the long-standing Port offerings we have become accustomed to. If you have not ventured into the world of fine Port, the upcoming autumn months are a perfect time to begin. As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, we seek heartier beverages to fortify our existence. Indeed, Port became popular as a drink in England because its combination of alcohol and residual sugar provided needed calories in the cold, damp London winters. There are many types of Port - Ruby Port, Vintage Port, Late-Bottled Vintage Port, even Rosé Port and others - but we will focus on Tawny Ports for the moment. After fermentation and fortification, the new wine is transferred to oak barrels for aging. Tawny Port gets its name from the tawny color it develops during this long aging process. Tawny Ports are aged before bottling and are not intended for further cellaring.

Granite in the Wine World
Wayne Belding
Jul 26, 2023

July 26, 2023: As students of wine, we often investigate famous soil types of the world's vineyards. Along with limestone and schist, granite soils are always among the first group we consider. For example, when we study Burgundy, we learn that Pinot Noir does not perform well in the decomposed granite soils of the Beaujolais Mountains and that Gamay is the preferred grape here because it makes the better wine. From this starting point, many assume that it is the mineral composition of the soil that yields the striking character of fine Cru Beaujolais. Granite, however, does not have a taste, and it is not logical to associate a particular wine flavor directly with a rock type. Plus, many wines beyond Beaujolais are successfully grown on granitic soils, with diverse varieties like Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Syrah, Zinfandel and others providing stellar examples of granite-grown wines. So, what is so special about granite?

A Journey to Fennville: Exploring an Unknown AVA
Wayne Belding
Jun 21, 2023

June 21, 2023: As of August 2022, there were 267 AVAs in the United States. Many of them are very well known, but an equal number are quite obscure. Most of the unknown group do not contain large commercial wineries and some are quite small in areal extent and vineyard acreage. AVAs are recognized by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and are defined based not on wine production levels, but on their unique geographic features, climate, and soil conditions that contribute to distinctive wine characteristics. The Fennville American Viticultural Area (AVA) is definitely one of the unknowns. It was established in 1981 and was the third AVA in all of the US, just behind Augusta, Missouri and Napa Valley. So, what is it about Fennville that makes it distinctive?

The Hydrologic Cycle Illustrated
Wayne Belding
May 10, 2023

May 10, 2023: Loire Valley, Rhône Valley, Vallée de la Marne, Mosel Valley, Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley, Douro Valley, Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, Willamette Valley, Hudson Valley, Yakima Valley…and so on. Wherever you go in the wine world, rivers are important elements when it comes to defining winegrowing regions. Rivers around the wine world vary quite considerably in character, but they do share many common aspects regarding their formation and evolution. The genesis or rivers begins with the hydrologic cycle, which consists of three major processes: evaporation, condensation, and precipitation.

Taking Time to Smell the Rosés
Wayne Belding
Apr 5, 2023

April 5, 2023: The wine world is awash in pink wine these days. Rosé, Rosato, Rosado, Clarete, Chiaretto, Cerasuolo, Vin Gris - these are all names for juicy, succulent and refreshingly dry pink-colored wines. With springtime approaching, the season for enjoying fine rosé wines is upon us. Fine rosés have been enjoyed by winedrinkers of the Mediterranean countries for centuries. On their home ground, these elegant rosé wines are recognized as a perfect beverage for summer weather and summer foods. While Europeans have been enjoying flavorful, refreshing pink wines with their summer repasts, until the last decades these excellent food companions were virtually ignored by the American wine consumer.

An Overview of the 2020 Bordeaux Vintage
Wayne Belding
Feb 8, 2023

Feb. 8, 2023: I recently had the privilege of attending a tasting of the 2020 Bordeaux vintage sponsored by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux - an organization that includes many top wines from the most famous Bordeaux appellations. It is an opportunity to get a sense of the overall quality of a given harvest and to discern which communes within the Bordeaux AOP were most successful. Most of these wines will arrive in the US by autumn if they are not in the market already. Overall, I think of 2020 as a classic vintage. Despite the long hot spell, I did not sense an overripe or raisined character in the samples. The wines generally show a fine balance of fruit, tannin and acidity. Many wines are impressive now and will age nicely for another decade and beyond. Prices listed below are average US retail prices from various sources. Astute shoppers can find many 2020 wines for less than the averages listed here.

It's a Cold World: Investigating Cool Climate Viticulture at VitiNord
Wayne Belding
Dec 29, 2022

Dec. 29, 2022: There are many intricacies of the wine industry that are worth exploring. Beyond the famous growing regions are many vine growers and winemakers working diligently to make the best wines they can from their particular location - often a site that is far different from the relative garden spots of Napa and Sonoma. Those growers and vintners in the northern and central parts of the US are in cold climate country. This broad area simply gets too cold in many winters for traditional grapes to survive.

Wines with Altitude: Investigating Colorado Wines
Wayne Belding
Oct 26, 2022

Oct. 26, 2022: Winegrowing has increased throughout the United States in recent decades. Wherever one travels throughout the country, there are likely some wineries to visit. Colorado is no exception. Today the state is home to one hundred or so wineries in total. Colorado topography is quite diverse. Although the state is most famous for its high mountain peaks, it also encompasses the vast high plains as they ramp up to the Rocky Mountains and a range of intermontane and canyonland valleys where agriculture can flourish. The majority of Colorado's vineyards are in the western part of the state, near Grand Junction in Mesa County.

What Does 'Dry' Mean?
Wayne Belding
Aug 17, 2022

August 17, 2022: What does 'dry' mean when characterizing wines? A look at the dictionary lists 16 uses of the adjective 'dry' before it gets to a wine reference, which is 'lacking sweetness' followed by 'having all or most sugar fermented into alcohol.' It is not surprising, given the wide use of 'dry' in so many ways, that there is confusion about the term when it relates to the taste of wine. Questions regarding whether a given wine is 'dry' or 'sweet' are an everyday occurrence to anyone who sells wine. Perceptions of 'dryness' vary widely, and understanding of the term are perhaps even more far-flung.

A Different View of Carbonation: Carbonate Rocks in the Wine World
Wayne Belding
Jun 30, 2022

June 30, 2022: Limestone soils get a great deal of adulation from students of wine. Many of the great winegrowing areas of France are underlain by limestone terroir. Chablis, the Côte d'Or, Pouilly-Fuissé in the Mâconnais, much of St.-Émilion, Champagne, Sancerre in the Loire Valley, and many of the Grands Crus of Alsace all have limestone as a base for their soils. While it is tempting to presume that limestone, by definition, makes the best vineyard soils, does it yield magnificent wines wherever it is found? Let's investigate the particulars of this widespread rock type.

Summer at the Lake: Lacustrine Influence on Vineyard Sites
Wayne Belding
May 25, 2022

May 25, 2022: Bodies of water are important factors for many vineyard sites. The moderating influence of nearby oceans, rivers and lakes can make a big difference in the quality of wines grown nearby. Here in North America, we have many of the best examples of beneficial lacustrine influence on vineyards. Most prominent of these is the Great Lakes. Agriculture in many forms thrives on the lakeshores. The large lakes have a profound influence on all agricultural endeavors, but particularly for grape growing. Wine grapes, more than fruits destined for the table or processing plant, are scrutinized to determine the perfect time to pick. Many microclimates around the Great Lakes owe their viticultural prowess to the presence of these massive bodies of water.

Wine's Surprisingly Strong Value Across the Decades
Wayne Belding
May 18, 2022

My transition to seriousness about wine happened over 40 years ago, but I can still remember some salient moments of those early discovery years. I recall my first Rioja tasting experience with a wine that, to me at that time, was exquisitely balanced with layered fruit, oak and spice nuances. It was a 1973 Rioja and I was so enamored of it as both a sensory experience and a bargain, I purchased a case! The price of that case was $39 - or $3.25 a bottle. That sounds like an incredible deal today. It was a good deal even then. If we adjust for inflation over the four decades, the modern equivalent price would be $11.70 a bottle. Out of curiosity, I checked on current price of a similar-quality bottle and found some at $9-$10. That suggests that wine is a better value now than 40 years ago.

To Begin With: An Exploration of Apéritifs
Wayne Belding
Apr 6, 2022

Apr 6, 2022: Selecting the appropriate beverage to enjoy for starters can enhance the mood of any occasion. The dictionary defines apéritif as, "A drink of alcoholic liquor or wine taken to stimulate the appetite before a meal." The word itself stems from the Latin aperire, meaning "to open." A good apéritif is a beverage that does just that - opens the way to a meal, party or other event. Many wines and wine-based beverages are excellent apéritifs and in this brief account we will discuss the characteristics of several possibilities.

A Personal Scorecard: 100-Point Wine Experiences
Wayne Belding
Feb 15, 2022

I have been blessed to have more than my share of great wines over four decades of serious tasting, but there have been singularly exceptional events in my experience that are entwined with the wine of the moment. In most cases, the tasting involved some epiphany in my wine education and realization - a moment that illustrated in a potent sensory experience what makes a wine distinctive and desirable. Below is an enumeration a half-dozen of what I will call my '100-point wine experiences.' Some of the wines mentioned are lauded throughout the world, but some are listed because of their personal revelations for me.

Under the Vines: A Look at Soil
Wayne Belding
Jan 11, 2022

Reference to soil is a constant when it comes to detailed discussions about vineyards. Wine marketers frequently refer to the limestone, granite, alluvial, glacial, or whatever soil type exists in the vineyard as giving the grapes distinctive and favorable characteristics. While there is no science that shows a human can taste limestone, granite, or any other rock type in wine, as students of wine we know that vines drawn from different soils smell and taste differently. We must logically conclude that it is not the taste of the rock, but something else that gives a resultant wine its distinction. Anyone who works in a vineyard knows that soils do make a difference in wine quality, but it likely has more to do with organic composition, pH, drainage and cation exchange capacity than rock type.

Classic Beverages from the Spirit World: Cognac and Armagnac
Wayne Belding
Nov 23, 2021

Although spirits distilled from grains and fruits abound throughout the world, some of the finest spirits of all come from the periphery of Bordeaux. The French regions of Cognac and Armagnac lie north and east, respectively, of the Bordeaux vineyards. These two spirit production regions, separated by only eighty miles, nonetheless produce different and distinctive products that have pleased palates throughout the world for centuries.

What's in a Year? The Difference a Vintage Makes
Wayne Belding
Oct 12, 2021

Those in the business of selling wine are often asked if a wine is from a "good" vintage. It would be nice if a simple yes or no answer could easily be applied but, most often, more than a nod of the head is required to assess the quality of a given harvest. Those seeking simplicity can turn to any number of vintage charts that will give a broad overall rating of vintages from particular regions. The degree of accuracy, however, in such broad-based assessments is inherently limited. Consider the famous French region of Bordeaux -- the region most closely watched by wine fanciers around the world. The Bordeaux vineyard area covers perhaps four thousand square miles of southwestern France and produces some 50-55 million cases of wine annually from its wide-ranging vineyards. Arriving at a single numeric grade for all the wines of this area in a particular year is, by its very nature, an exercise in imprecision. There is much more information one needs to consider when deciding whether a specific vintage is "good." It may very well be superb for one maker's wine while only average or poor for others.

Warming Wines for Autumn
Wayne Belding
Sep 7, 2021

Autumn is approaching. The days are getting noticeably shorter, the nights colder and in response, the body seeks warmth and fuel. Hence, the foods we savor most in as the season changes are hearty, full-flavored dishes that provide the body with the energy resources it needs. Autumn is the season when consumer tastes turn toward fuller-flavored wines as well. These include the fullest bodied of whites and a wide range of red wines. The cool weather invites enjoyment of heartier meals as well as wines. It can be an interesting time as well to visit wineries if they are in your vicinity. Harvest and crush are critical moments in winemaking, and it is impressive to take in the sights and smells of the new vintage. Do not expect, however, to talk much with winemakers. They have lots to do at harvest time and their minds are focused on the decisions at hand.

Wine on the Ledge: Investigating the Wisconsin Ledge AVA
Wayne Belding
Aug 3, 2021

Wisconsin, although justifiably famous for agriculture, is not well known for wine production. The state does have an intriguing wine history, though. Agoston Harazthy planted his first vineyard in the USA along the Wisconsin River in 1846. Harazthy turned his focus westward two years later, but his initial vineyard site is now part of the Wollersheim Winery vineyards north of Madison. Tucked in amongst the many corn and soybean fields of the Badger State, there is a growing wine industry. There are only around 100+ wineries now operating in the Wisconsin. Compare that to the seven thousand registered Wisconsin dairy farms. Although very small in numbers, these pioneering wineries show that fine wine can be produced here.

Investigating the 2018 Bordeaux Vintage
Wayne Belding
Jul 6, 2021

Amidst the changes wrought by the pandemic, I recently had the privilege of attending a tasting of 2018 Bordeaux wines sponsored by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux - an organization that includes many top wines from the most famous Bordeaux appellations. Although 2018 is a fine vintage, the Bordeaux wine market is in turmoil along with the rest of the world. The pandemic wrought massive changes in the way wines are purchased and consumed. Restaurants that had been Bordeaux buyers for years have needed to scale back purchases or may be out of business. Thus, prices for the 2018 wines have not risen as sharply as they might have in more 'normal' times. The Bordelais vintners are very pleased with the result of the '18 harvest, and comparisons to 2016 and 2015 are often made.

A Closer Look at Michigan Wine Country
Wayne Belding
May 18, 2021

I have sampled excellent wines from many areas of Michigan and the quality continues to improve as vintners identify better sites and better techniques to get the most out of their grapes. Riesling leads the way and there are many wines, primarily from Leelanau and Old Mission that have impressed tasters with their purity and racy style. Other Michigan white grapes that show promise are Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Muscat and Pinot Gris. Hybrid varieties like Vignoles, Traminette and Vidal can also yield pure and refreshing wines. Sparkling wines are important in Michigan. Red wines are made throughout the state as well. The southwestern AVAs are warm enough to support quality Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and even Cabernet Sauvignon. The northern AVAs tend to concentrate on Pinot Noir and Blaufränkisch. Many wineries devote part of their grapes to rosé production, at times with delicious results.

Pinot Blanc: The Forgotten Member of the Family
Wayne Belding
Apr 13, 2021

The Pinot Blanc variety has long been overlooked when the discussion turns to fine wine grapes. It is, I believe, a grape of marvelous potential that has never gained much traction in the marketplace. Although some argue for an Alsace provenance, Pinot Blanc's origin is most likely in Burgundy, where it developed as a white-berried mutation of the Pinot Noir. Given the Pinot family's predilection for mutation, it is certainly possible that white-berried Pinot vines developed in more than one region. Given the ideal combination of soil, climate, viticultural skill and expert winemaking, the Pinot Blanc can yield some wonderfully textured, aromatic, nuanced and satisfying white wines. Sadly, these conditions are frequently not present and much of the Pinot Blanc wine made today falls far short of the grape's ultimate potential.

Port: The Fire of a Forgotten Sun
Wayne Belding
Dec 29, 2020

With the turn into January and perhaps the end of our Covid isolation, we can look forward to the coldest weather of the year with perhaps a bit of optimism. With frigid days and long nights in the forecast, this is the optimal time to enjoy a fine Port. Port is a wine that recalls the warmth of a summer sun and bathes the palate in luscious ripeness. True Port comes from a demarcated area along the Douro River of northern Portugal. This is rugged land - too spare to permit nearly any agricultural endeavor other than viticulture. The schist soils are rocky, the slopes are steep, often terraced, and a great deal of manual labor is required to tend and pick the grapes.

Vineyards Hiding in Plain Sight: Discovering New American Wines to Enjoy
Wayne Belding
Oct 27, 2020

In these Covid-conscious times, many of us are limiting travel to destinations within a day's drive. If wine is intriguing to you, you might be able to indulge in your passion on a road trip. There are wineries in all 50 states today, so it is altogether possible that your next great discovery in the wonderful world of wine is waiting just around the bend. Discussions of United States wines tend to focus on California first, with Oregon and Washington completing the west coast triumvirate. California leads the way with 4000+ wineries and both Oregon and Washington contain hundreds of wine estates. It's not nearly as well known that Missouri, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Texas, Illinois and North Carolina all boast over 100 wineries within their borders.

Cellar Memories: 1870 Château Lafite-Rothschild
Wayne Belding
Aug 11, 2020

All of us have long histories of wine tasting and enjoyment. I have been privileged to have sampled more than my share of great wines. Some, however, make an indelible impression that is a pleasure to recall. Twenty or so years ago, I had the opportunity to partake in a tasting of one of the greatest wines of all time - the 1870 Château Lafite-Rothschild. This wine is a legend. Powerful and backward in its youth, it was barely drinkable until the 1920's. When wine lovers approach an experience like this, it is with a high degree of reverence. Thoughts cross the mind as well of all that has come to pass since those grapes were harvested. Think of the events that have transpired in the last 140 years - two world wars, one cold war, the advent of the automobile, the airplane, the flush toilet, the light bulb, the telephone and on and on. So much has changed in the condition of humanity, yet wine remains somehow comfortingly constant.

A Look Back at the Wine World of 1933
Wayne Belding
Jun 23, 2020

Four score and seven years ago, a book entitled "Wines" by Julian Leonard Street was published. Julian Street was an American author, born in 1879, who wrote for a variety of publications in his journalistic career. The French awarded him the Cross of Chevalier, Legion of Honor in 1935 for his writings on wines and gastronomy. The "Wines" book is a small, 194-page introduction to wines for those relatively new to the topic. I came across a copy some months ago and found it to be a revealing snapshot of the 1930's world of wine. Keep in mind the state of affairs of the wine world in 1933. Prohibition had just ended and, of the 2,500 US wineries that existed prior to Prohibition, only about 100 remained in business.

Grüner in Oregon's Umpqua - and More!
Wayne Belding
May 5, 2020

My first view of the Umpqua Valley was as a geology student decades ago. The complex geology of the Umpqua, as it flows from the Cascades, through the Coast Range and to the sea made it an ideal laboratory for undergraduates to study. Little did I know that the siltstones and sandstones of the Tyee Formation or the pillow lavas of the Siletz River Volcanics would have expanded meaning for me in the decades ahead. Regardless of rocks, though, the Umpqua Valley was a beautiful spot - one I would return to many times. Fast-forward a decade as I entered the wine business and became aware of the nascent Oregon wine industry, I began to hear about the development of vineyards in the Umpqua and watched the progress of the wines with great interest. Today, with 30 or so wineries and growing notoriety for fine wines, the Umpqua Valley is getting more recognition than ever.

A Snapshot of the 2017 Bordeaux Vintage
Wayne Belding
Mar 17, 2020

In most recent years, I have had the privilege of attending a tasting of the new Bordeaux vintage release sponsored by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux - an organization that includes many top wines from the most famous Bordeaux appellations. This year's tasting was of the 2017 vintage. Most of these wines will arrive in the US by autumn if they are not in the market already. 2017 is not a great vintage. Even the Bordelais vintners, who rarely shy away from effusive praise, admit that 2016 and 2015 were better years. There are, however, some superb wines from 2017 and many very good wines as well.

Windblown Vineyard Benefits
Wayne Belding
Dec 3, 2019

Vineyard soils are held in great esteem throughout the wine world. Growers tout the exemplary nature of the earth underpinning their vines - whether the basis be granite, limestone, basalt or other rock types. Loess soils, while they are not as often noted, are found throughout the agricultural world, comprising nearly ten percent of the earth's soil surface. They are prized for their fertility and for the abundant crops they support. These widely distributed soils are of interest to winelovers because they underlie several famous winegrowing regions. We find references to loess and wine most commonly in Austria, Germany, Hungary and the western United States. On close inspection, we find that loess is more widely distributed in vineyards than we might have thought.

Alluvial Expressions: Rivers, Vines and Wines
Wayne Belding
Oct 1, 2019

When it comes to the geography of wine, rivers are among the most important factors. Rivers throughout Europe define wine regions: the Loire, Rhône, Mosel, Rhein, Duero/Douro, Danube and more. Where local rivers are not part of the wine region name, they are often critical to the character of the region. The vineyards of Bordeaux are shaped by the Garonne, Dordogne and smaller tributaries. In the New World as well, rivers are often synonymous with winegrowing areas - the Willamette Valley, Columbia Valley, Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, Hudson Valley and more all indicate the importance of rivers to viticulture.

Mud to Rock: Sedimentation, Lithification and the Rock Cycle
Wayne Belding
Jul 30, 2019

There are many areas of the world where shale, slate, and schist soils are exalted as the reason for superior vineyard sites. The Douro Valley of Portugal, Priorat in Spain, Côte Rôtie in France and Central Otago in New Zealand are all noted for schistous soils. The Mosel River Valley and Nahe Valley of Germany are famous for slates of various colors. Blauschiefer and Rotschiefer are noted soils of the Mosel -- named for blue and red slates. Additionally, the ancient Malmesbury Shale-based soils of South Africa are noted as a base for some top Pinot Noir vineyards in the Cape South Coast. There is also a thick sequence of Devonian-age shales that underlies many of New York's Finger Lakes vineyards. Many of the fine Rieslings in Australia's Clare Valley are grown on slate soils as well. They all share the life-giving, water retention properties of the clay minerals that compose their respective soils.

Crystalline Rocks: The Real Power of Crystals
Wayne Belding
Jun 4, 2019

Granitic soils abound in the wine world. We are aware of Beaujolais, even though the majority of Beaujolais vineyards lie south of the famous Crus and planted on limestone rather than granite. Perhaps the next most famous French region for granite soils is the great hill of Hermitage, where powerful Syrahs dominate production. Also in the northern Rhône, Condrieu rests largely on granite-based soils and provides the world with luxurious and aromatic Viognier wines. Elsewhere in France, in the Loire Valley, the ancient granites of the village of Clisson provide the base for the famous Muscadets from that site. The Alsace Grands Crus of Schlossberg, Brand, and Sommerberg are known for Rieslings drawn from granitic terroirs as well.

Tracking the Wines and Rocks of the 'Garden of France'
Wayne Belding
Apr 9, 2019

There is no better source of thirst-slaking wines than France's Loire Valley. The wines from this extensive region are perfect warm weather wines -- exhibiting an exuberant, refreshing and thoroughly enchanting style. The valley of the Loire River stretches some 625 miles across northern France and is home to an amazing array of distinctive, and attractive red and white wines interspersed throughout a region dotted with fairytale castles, grand chateaux of the Renaissance, as well as dwellings cut into chalky riverside cliffs.

The Amazing Wine World Transformers: Southern Hemisphere Wines
Wayne Belding
Feb 12, 2019

Although most of Earth's landmass, and thus its vineyard land, is in the Northern Hemisphere, there is much of interest to wine lovers in the Southern Hemisphere. In the last three decades, winegrowing areas in Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have all demonstrated great potential for fine wine production. Most of these now commonly seen wines were rarely available at all in the US market of the early 1980's. Their aggregate rise in consumer recognition has transformed the international wine market.

Millions of Years in the Making: Appreciating the Geology that Underlies our Favorite Wines
Wayne Belding
Dec 11, 2018

Wine aficionados love to talk about geologic aspects of vineyard sites that produce their favorite wines. Whether it's the Jurassic limestone of Burgundy, the granite of Beaujolais or the schist of the Douro Valley, the geology is approached with reverence. The study of geology revolves around understanding how the rocks we observe on the surface of the earth are formed. By understanding their genesis, we can develop far-reaching theories on the earth's formative processes.

Vinous Treasures in Our Midst: Exploring the Diversity and Distinction of North American Grapes
Wayne Belding
Oct 23, 2018

Wine lovers these days are eager to indulge in the opportunity to try wines from new grape varieties. We have seen grapes like Assyrtiko, Nerello Mascalese, Godello and Trousseau achieve popularity among avid wine drinkers. These Old World varieties have often languished in obscurity for centuries before their modern popularity. What about the range of North American grapes? How many have sampled the aromas and flavors of Wetumka, Cloeta or Lomanto? These grapes are the result of tireless work by Thomas Munson, the 'Grape Man of Texas' who not only catalogued the range of wild grapes growing in the central United States, but also bred hundreds of new varieties, some of which can be found and enjoyed today.

Earth, Wine and Geologic Time
Wayne Belding
Aug 28, 2018

As wine aficionados, we often indulge in defining soil types of favored vineyard sites by their geologic ages. Thus we have references to Devonian slate in the Mosel, Jurassic marls in Burgundy, Tortonian vs. Helvetian/Serravalian soils in Barolo, Cambrian in Australia's Heathcote and so on. While these are terms that define geologic age, they have little meaning for viticulture. What interests the grapevine is the soil in which its roots grow. Soil formation is not related to the age of the bedrock from which the soils form. Soils are nearly always far younger than the rocks that they overlie. Still, geologic time terminology is embedded in modern wine marketing jargon, so examining the history of geochronology may give us a better understanding of what these terms mean.

The Earthly Story of the Finger Lakes: A Unique American Terroir
Wayne Belding
Jul 3, 2018

The Finger Lakes of New York State have, after many decades, become recognized as a significant winegrowing region of the United States. National publications now rate the Finger Lakes as one of the top wine regions for visiting. The Finger Lakes (FLX to the locals) are indeed a beautiful spot to visit and definitely rising in notoriety throughout the wine world. The Finger Lakes lie at 42 degrees of latitude -- equivalent to Rías Baixas, Rioja, Bandol, Tasmania, and New Zealand's Waipara. There are eleven lakes within the Finger Lakes AVA. Most of the vineyards are located around three of them -- Cayuga (25 wineries), Seneca (61 wineries) and Keuka (19 wineries). These large bodies of water provide a needed moderating influence during the sometimes brutally cold winter months.

The Pays Nantais: Unique Geology, Enchanting Wines
Wayne Belding
May 15, 2018

To beat the summer heat, there's no better source of thirst-slaking wines than France's Loire Valley. The wines from this extensive region are perfect warm weather wines -- exhibiting an exuberant, refreshing and thoroughly enchanting style. The valley of the Loire River stretches some 625 miles across northern France and is home to an amazing array of distinctive, and attractive red and white wines interspersed throughout a region dotted with fairytale castles, grand chateaux of the renaissance, and dwellings cut into chalky riverside cliffs.

Chenin Blanc: A Grape on the Upswing, At Last
Wayne Belding
Mar 27, 2018

The Chenin Blanc, or just Chenin to Loire Valley producers, is a grape of marvelous potential that is too often overlooked in the marketplace. Its origins appear to be in the Loire Valley of France in Anjou, where it was called the Plant d'Anjou. It was transported upstream in the sixteenth century to the monastery of Montchenin in Touraine. The grape thrived in the Touraine vineyards and took the name of Chenin after the monastery. It is a white grape that is now planted across several continents. Given an ideal combination of soil, climate, viticultural skill and expert winemaking, the Chenin Blanc can yield some of the world's most intensely aromatic and flavorful white wines. Sadly, these conditions are frequently not present and much of the Chenin Blanc wine made today falls far short of the grape's potential.

Rediscover Alsace: Unique Geology, Extraordinary Wines
Wayne Belding
Feb 13, 2018

Despite producing a profusion of stellar wines, Alsace is often overlooked when it comes to French winegrowing areas. The wine press covers events in Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne with great alacrity, while Alsace is accorded a footnote. Although wine has been made here since Roman times, the tormented political history of the region has prevented Alsace wines from gaining the same recognition as other French producing regions. Between 1870 and 1970, Alsace was under German control more than French. Whether its lack of notoriety is due to fragmented vineyard holdings, political history or the sheer diversity of its wines, it's time to rediscover the greatness of Alsace wine.

Forged by Fire: Investigating Igneous Rocks
Wayne Belding
Dec 26, 2017

We have discussed the rock cycle in past columns. There are three basic categories of rocks, igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic. They are all connected in the endless rock cycle. Sedimentary rocks form as deposits accumulate in the seas (most often) and are compressed and lithified. Metamorphic rocks begin as sedimentary rocks and then undergo sufficient heat and pressure to change the character of the rock. Sometimes the heat and pressure increase to a point when the rock melts -- this is the process that ultimately forms igneous rocks. Once igneous, or any type of rock is uplifted to the Earth's surface, it is subject to weathering, erosion and deposition as the start of new sedimentary rock, and the cycle is complete.

Current Affairs: Oceans in Motion
Wayne Belding
Nov 14, 2017

One important factor for many of the world's famous winegrowing regions is the influence of ocean currents. The movement of warm or cold waters off the coasts of continents can profoundly affect the local climates and growing conditions. Oceanic currents are found all over the globe and vary in size, importance, and strength, and some are key to understanding the distinction of winegrowing regions. There are seventeen major surface currents flowing through the oceans of the world. As students of wine, we focus on the cold ocean currents that affect the growing conditions of coastal vineyards.

Geology Among the Vines
Wayne Belding
Oct 3, 2017

Grape growers know that specific sites consistently yield better or lesser quality fruit. The site differences may range from a few rows in a vineyard block to a whole winegrowing region. Piecing together the complex puzzle of factors that result in superior vineyard sites enhances one's understanding of the true meaning of terroir. In a broad sense, geology plays a key role in determining the relative quality of a vineyard or winegrowing region. As a study of the forces that shape the earth, every specific site, vineyard or not, has a geologic story behind it.

The Earthly Underpinnings of Mexico's Vineyards
Wayne Belding
Aug 22, 2017

It was nearly 500 years ago when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortéz conquered the Aztecs and created New Spain. In 1524, as Governor of the new colony, Cortéz decreed that all colonists who received a land grant must plant grapevines. Thus, the Mexican wine industry was born. There is record of grapes being planted in the Valle de Parras of Central Mexico in 1593 and the Casa Madero Winery was established in 1597, making it the oldest winery in the northern hemisphere.

Hotspot for Wine: The Geologic Underpinnings of Madeira
Wayne Belding
Jul 11, 2017

The wines of Madeira are among the most historic and unusual in the world. With a mythic history of discovery and plantation, Madeira wines have been alternately exalted and ignored by the world's wine consumers for over four centuries. A favorite in colonial America, Madeira was the wine of choice for many a gathering during the struggle for independence. A visit to Madeira reveals a very unusual winegrowing area. The six thousand foot high island is rugged, with steep slopes and cliffs dropping down to the ocean. If you want a flat place on Madeira, you probably need to make it yourself.

It's Classified! Exploring the Intricacies of Stratigraphic Nomenclature
Wayne Belding
May 30, 2017

Rock types are important for understanding the geologic history of any given area. Wine enthusiasts and salespeople frequently refer to the rock types of a particular vineyard site with an air of importance that implies much greater certainty than a simple rock name can convey. The famous Kimmeridgian Clay/Limestone is part of the legend of Chablis. Students of the Langhe Hills revel in knowing which Barolo vineyards are on Tortonian Limestones and which on Serravalian (a.k.a. Helvetian) Sandstones. Additionally, the Willamette Valley of Oregon offers differences based on the composition of soils derived from volcanic rock vs. the sandstones and siltstones that comprise the marine sediments of the Willamette Valley AVA.

Leading Edge Geology and Wine in Oregon
Wayne Belding
Apr 18, 2017

Wine enthusiasts are quick to embrace the lexicon of geology when describing the provenance of their favorite wines. Throughout the wine world, we find references to the special limestone, granite, volcanic, schist, slate and other rocks that imbue wines with their special characteristics. This is a controversial point and often more than a bit overdone. The change in bedrock color or composition is the most visible of the many elements that create a beneficial site. There are clearly more important aspects, but it is always a combination of factors that coalesce to create a top vineyard. Geology is certainly important, but the broad impacts are sometimes overlooked when the focus is on the details.

Terrace Terroir
Wayne Belding
Mar 7, 2017

Throughout the wine world, we find many noted growing regions that owe their distinction, at least in part, to the existence of river, or fluvial, terraces. This is not surprising, since many classic wine regions are situated along significant watercourses. Terraces often provide an excellent habitat for grapevines, combining extra elevation with effective drainage for both air and water. For the geologist, the study of fluvial geomorphology investigates the reasons why the landforms we observe have come into existence.

Franciacorta's Icy History
Wayne Belding
Jan 24, 2017

In the beginning, there was Ziliani. And Ziliani said 'Let there be Franciacorta.' And there was Franciacorta. And it was good. While there is much more to the history of the region's wines, Franciacorta as we know it today is a thoroughly modern invention -- quite out of character in the litany of Old World wine regions. Franco Ziliani was the winemaker for the Guido Berlucci estate who, in 1958, decided to make sparkling wine from vineyards in the glacially-formed hills at the south end of Lake Iseo. In rather rapid fashion over the intervening half century, Franciacorta has evolved to become Italy's premier sparkling wine.

Safe Deposits: How Depositional Environments Influence the Wine World
Wayne Belding
Dec 6, 2016

As students of wine, we often find our investigations involving the geology of a specific winegrowing region. We talk about various soil types and bedrock origins with great enthusiasm, although the exact connection between the earth and the vine remains something of a mystery. When geologists look at the surface of the earth, we ask how it came to be. The surface and subsurface features we see in sedimentary rocks and soils are consequences of their respective depositional environments. We study the processes that create the bedrock and surface soils that we observe.

Vines on Ice: Glacial influence on Great Lakes Vineyard Sites
Wayne Belding
Oct 25, 2016

If you travel throughout the north-central United States, you know you are in Great Lakes country. Agriculture in many forms thrives on the lakeshores. The large lakes have a profound influence on all agricultural endeavors, but particularly for grape growing. Wine grapes, more than fruits destined for the table or processing plant, are scrutinized to determine the perfect time to pick. Many microclimates around the Great Lakes owe their viticultural prowess to the presence of these massive bodies of water.

Fan-tastic Vineyards: Alluvial Fans in the Wine World
Wayne Belding
Sep 13, 2016

The impressive force exerted by flowing water sculpts many of the landforms we see throughout the world. To a geologist, these are fluvial forces and the various gravels, sands and clays they deposit are known as alluvial sediments or alluvium. While rivers and streams arguably influence all landscapes in some respect, their power and the sediments they leave behind have a dramatic influence on many of the worlds most famous vineyard regions.

Wine in the Heartland - Investigating the new Loess Hills District AVA
Wayne Belding
Aug 2, 2016

Iowa, although famous for agriculture, is not known for wine production. Amidst the profusion of corn and soybean fields, however, there is a burgeoning wine industry. With nearly one hundred wineries now operating in the Hawkeye State, it's clear that wines overall are improving. While a few wineries are experimenting with vitis vinifera grapes, most are working with cold-hardy varieties bred for the harsh winters experienced in the state.

The Mysterious Methods of Science in the Vineyard
Wayne Belding
Jun 21, 2016

When wine sellers tell the stories behind the wines they present, they frequently wax poetic about the soil from which the grapes are drawn. Statements about wines being grown, variously, on limestone, granite, sandstone, clay, alluvium, colluvium, volcanic rock and on and on are made with great emphasis and certitude that they mean something - something really important. Generally, when you question further, you don't find a scientific reason why the touted soil type is meaningful, just that it is different. A host of questions then besets the curious mind regarding the reasons that might underlie the long-standing axiomatic superiority of the noted soil type. This is the way wine is spoken about and sold in many establishments that sell the bottles.

When Continents Collide: How Wines are Affected by Plate Tectonics
Wayne Belding
Apr 26, 2016

One visit to the vineyards of Santorini and you will know that there is no other winegrowing region in the world quite like this. Santorini is very new land in a geologic sense. Its vines grow on the slopes of a volcano that erupted with cataclysmic force some 3500 years ago. The violent eruption not only destroyed civilization on the island, but also wrought destruction far beyond the shores of Santorini. The massive ash falls, pyroclastic debris flows, concurrent tsunamis and atmospheric shock waves likely caused tremendous damage throughout the Mediterranean, and the clouds of fine particles and sulfur that reached the stratosphere and probably caused the yellow fogs, reduced sunlight and cold temperatures observed in China at that time. Santorini today is a caldera, a remnant of the collapsed volcano that spewed billions of cubic feet of ash outward when it exploded.

Sauvignon Blanc and Plate Tectonics: The Extraordinary Geology of Marlborough
Wayne Belding
Mar 15, 2016

What makes Marlborough such a distinctive growing region? Its advantage is tied to its underlying geology. The sunny climate and strong diurnal shift that allows the vivid Sauvignon Blanc flavors to develop is possible because of the rain shadow protection of the Southern Alps. The geologic story begins here.

Bubbling Up From the Chalk: Exploring the Geologic Heritage of Champagne
Wayne Belding
Feb 2, 2016

Because Champagne is so popular, much is made of the chalky soils that comprise the vineyards of the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs. Let's delve into the geologic history that created this distinctive terroir. The name Champagne is derived from the Latin word 'campania' -- meaning an open place. This is reflective of the relative infertility of the soils. When the Romans arrived on the scene, they described what we see today if we look east from the Champagne vineyards. Known as the Champagne Pouilleuse (literally 'lousy Champagne' -- a reference to its relative infertility), this large expanse of land is underlain by chalk, but without the benefit of sand and clay interbeds that make the Champagne vineyard area so bountiful for the vine.

The Dark Side of Volcanic Rocks: Basaltic Basics
Wayne Belding
Dec 22, 2015

Oenophiles are often consumed with details about the soils of various vineyard sites around the wine world. One term that is widely expressed with gravitas is that a vineyard has volcanic soils. Let's explore the meaning of the description.

A River Runs Through It: Exploring the Range of Fluvial & Alluvial Influences on Vineyards
Wayne Belding
Nov 3, 2015

Wine folk are fond of making definitive pronouncements about specific soil types, as if the meaning of the term is self-evident. Thus, we hear about limestone, granite, Kimmeridgian, red slate, blue slate, schist, volcanic, and so on. One term that is casually broadcast in similar fashion is 'alluvial,' in reference to soil. Let's delve into the implications of this designation. Alluvial soils are, by definition, those that are deposited by fluvial processes, i.e. flowing water. These diverse soils are created by rivers, creeks and streams in a variety of environments. As we consider the universe of alluvium, it's clear that it encompasses a wide range of depositional circumstances, from a small mountain stream emptying onto a valley floor, to a massive river emptying into the ocean. We find alluvial impacts throughout the wine world.

Living in the Shadows
Wayne Belding
Sep 8, 2015

Wine fanciers often speak of the beneficial 'rain shadow' effect in their favorite winegrowing regions. When you study the world's wines, you find the rain shadow words mentioned in regard to Eastern Washington, Alsace, Mendoza and more. In it's simplest form, it just means that there is a mountain range that forces air upward, causing it to drop its moisture content on the windward side and leaving drier air on the leeward side of the range. The incessantly quizzical among us will wonder why this favorable circumstance occurs.

Geology on Display: The Vineyards of South Africa
Wayne Belding
Jul 14, 2015

South Africa is home to some of the most strikingly beautiful vineyards in the world. Those who visit the winegrowing areas of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek and beyond seem compelled to take photos almost constantly because every turn reveals a new and dramatic vista. The distinctive soil types of the Cape, combined with access to cooling marine air, create a diverse environment for grape growing. With experimentation and study, some growers have identified distinctive wine characteristics from the various soil types. In Stellenbosch, Chenin Blanc from sandstone based soils tends toward a livelier, lemony style while vines grown on decomposed granite soils will offer more depth and tropical notes. In Walker Bay, the admirable Pinot Noirs are most often grown on shale-based soils, whereas the sandstone soils are used for livelier white wines.

The Geometry of Geology
Wayne Belding
May 19, 2015

Geologists are map freaks. It comes with the territory. Part of one's training in the field of geology will likely be drawing maps based on observations of the local geology. We can gain a great deal of information from a well-drawn geologic map regarding the history of the area detailed by the cartographer. As we transition to wine geeks, we bring our fascination for maps with us. Pretty as they are…with their bright colors, geologic maps tend to be completely incomprehensible to the uninitiated. Seemingly random patterns and obscure abbreviations abound, and the maps are often quickly relegated back to the bookshelf or for use as an attractive wall hanging.

Bringing Clarity to the Clare
Wayne Belding
Apr 7, 2015

When geologists study winegrowing areas, part of the fun of exploration is figuring out the earthly influences that make the area especially hospitable to wine grapes. More than just the study of rocks and their derivative soils, we consider the forces of nature that combined to create the topography we observe. Piecing together the complex puzzle of factors that result in distinctive vineyard sites allows us to understand the entirety of the place -- the terroir, if you will. In the broadest sense, the geologic underpinnings of any specific place, vineyard or otherwise, affects the character of that site. One of the many geologically intriguing wine regions is the Clare Valley of South Australia.

Digging Into the Details of Limestone
Wayne Belding
Feb 17, 2015

winegrowing areas of France are underlain by limestone terroir. Chablis, the Côte d'Or, the Mâconnais, much of St. Emilion, Champagne, the Loire Valley, and many of the Grands Crus of Alsace all have limestone as a base for their soils. Is this the pixie dust of vineyard soils? Does it yield magnificent wines wherever it is found? Let's investigate the particulars of this nearly mythic rock type.

Getting More from Loess
Wayne Belding
Dec 16, 2014

Loess soils are found throughout the world, comprising nearly ten percent of the earth's soil surface. These widely distributed soils are of interest to winelovers because they are the underpinning of several famous and highly desired wines. We find references to loess and wine most commonly in Austria, Germany, Hungary and the western United States. Loess (Löß in its native German) means 'loose' -- a reference to the poorly compacted nature of the soil. Loess is, in geologic terms, a recent deposit of windblown silt. Silt particles are very small -- 0.002 to 0.063 millimeters in diameter. That's 100 times smaller than your average beach sand grain size, so it's easy to see how silt particles can be transported by strong winds.

Ice is Nice: The Effect of Glaciers on Wines We Know
Wayne Belding
Oct 21, 2014

One of the most profound influences on many of the winegrowing regions we revere today is the direct and indirect action of glaciers. Winegrowing regions at high latitudes often exist because the local microclimate is warmed by a large body of water, either a lake or river. In a multitude of instances, glaciers are the reason for those impacts. Our world has been locked in ice for most of the past two million years. When measured against a human's lifespan, that's a long time but it represents only 0.0004 percent of the earth's 4.5 billion year history. If you compressed the earth's history to the span of a single day, two million years is equivalent to the last 35 seconds of that span. Thus, the glacial activity of the most recent epoch (the Pleistocene, in geologic parlance) is very recent in geologic timescale terms.

A Tale of Shale...and Schist and Slate: How the Rock Cycle Affects the Wines We Love
Wayne Belding
Aug 26, 2014

The best vineyard soils are notable for having a fine balance between water draining and water retaining properties. Vinifera vines tend not to produce great grapes when they have their 'feet wet.' Excessive water can lead to vigorous leaf growth and perhaps large quantities of not-particularly-flavorful grapes. Many of the best vineyard sites allow most water to drain away but retain just enough so that the vine roots have access to water during a dry summer. The agent for water retention is, generally speaking, clay.