“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
Ursula K. Le Guin,
This spring, I took my first step in my journey with the thought that maybe the different soil types in BC affect the aromas and flavours of Pinot Noir grapes. How to test that thought? Last year I tested this theory with Riesling. It is a cool climate grape; BC is a cool climate wine region. Riesling is not aged or fermented in oak barrels here; instead with stainless steel, which does not impart any taste to the wine. My investigation into BC Riesling did show unique aromas and flavours by soil type as well as differences in flavours and aromas by latitude. What would Pinot Noir exhibit?
Step 2 in my journey was to contact our BC wineries asking them for a sample of their Pinot Noir wines. I tried to keep the vintage to 2014 or 2013, to minimize variation due to differences in weather each year, and changes in the bottle due to cellar aging. I received 20 bottles of 2013 vintage and 17 bottles of 2014 vintage. There were also 1 bottle of 2011, 5 bottles of 2012, and 3 bottles of 2015, which I investigated after analyzing the 2013 and 2014 vintages individually.
Step 3, I tasted each wine over 2 days so I could get the initial aromas and flavours, right from the bottle, as-if I were a person opening a bottle and pouring it immediately at their dinner table, and then up to 24 hours later to see if the wine’s aromas and flavours had changed, due to the interaction with oxygen in the air. I used a Riedel glass meant for Pinot Noir wines.
Step 4 was to tag each wine to a vineyard in BC on a map using a Geographic Information System (GIS), and then to overlay these vineyard points on top of a digital soil map of BC. The result of the overlay was the soil information was attached to the vineyard location, which then allowed me to aggregate the flavours and aromas by soil type; My goal of this analysis. From the overlay I did find out that the vineyards were associated with 9 different soil types, but two in particular were favoured by vineyard owners: Eluviated Eutric Brunisol and Orthic Brown Chernozem (same as the Riesling grapes). You can read the full details about BC soils and vineyard locations here.
Step 5, was to aggregate the aromas and flavours data I collected per soil type, and see if there are any differences between soil types. To help visualize these differences, I produced a Word Cloud graphic, where words used more often would show up in larger text and those aromas and flavour descriptors, used less, would be smaller in size. What are the results?
Unique Aromas and Flavours in BC Pinot Noir Wines
As I had mainly 2013 and 2014 vintages, most of my comparisons and comments are on the differences presented in these vintages. The BC Wine Institute Vintage Report for 2013 notes that “…red wine quality was in the Good-Excellent range, with flavourful ripe tannins and balanced acidity. The sunny summer weather in 2013 led to the earliest start to the BC grape harvest on record, up to that point. Spring was cool but temperatures rebounded and have lower than average rainfall. June was rainy but blooms started mid June and continued into July. Ripening was about 10 days ahead of schedule. September saw the temperatures dip and plunge in October. The end of the season was wet…”
In the BC Wine Institute Vintage Report for 2014, it notes that “…the red wine quality was Very Good-Excellent. 2014 was one of the warmest years on record. What sets it apart from other warm years was the lack of heat spikes, leading to steady and consistent temperature and growth. It had a dry spring with about 50mm of rainfall. Bud break started at some vineyards mid April and flowering in early June. The hotter weather though slowed down the grape ripening as the vines shift into dormancy till temperature drops. The summer heat, followed by a cool September and a warm October harvest led to unique conditions in the Okanagan. The cool September temperatures would have slowed down sugar development, while flavours and tannins matured, and the cool nights would keep the acidity in the grapes…”
2013 does appear to have a wider variety of aromas compared to 2014. Red fruit is the predominant aroma, but there is more black fruit in 2013; raspberry and cedar are also fairly prominent. In 2014 perfume and leafiness is more evident.
Again 2013 appears to have a wider variety of flavours than 2014. Red fruit and cherry form a large component of both vintages. Raspberry, plum, and black fruit are more prominent in 2013, while raspberry is lesser and black fruit is not evident. Perfume is a significant component to both years.
Flavours and Aromas by Soil Type
The Eluviated Eutric Brunisol (EEB) soil type had 11 wines associated with it. The Pinot Noir aroma and flavour profile from the word clouds by 2013 and 2014 vintages follow.
The aromas in 2013 for the EEB soil type were of red and black fruit. Cherry followed by plum, cedar and perfume. Leafiness very small. More perfume than leafiness. The 2014 aromas were not as varied. They were red fruit primarily. Cherry and raspberry tied. A hint of perfume.
The flavours for the 2013 vintage was red and black fruit, cherry and raspberry; all about in equal amounts. There was lesser plum and perfume and then some leafiness. Hint of cedar, blueberry and blackberry. The 2014 vintage was mostly red fruit, followed by cherry. It has a big perfume component. Raspberry less than red fruit, cherry and perfume. Hint of strawberries and leafiness.
The wineries with vineyards with this soil type are:
- Tantalus (2 wines)
- Seven Directions (Kalala Vineyard)
- CedarCreek Estate Winery (2 wines) (Platinum Block 2 and 4)
- Meyer Family Vineyards (Reimer Family Vineyard)
- Black Cloud
- 50th Parallel Estate
- Volcanic Hills
Orthic Brown Chernozem (OBC) had 17 wines associated with it, with these associated aromas and flavours by 2013 and 2014 vintages.
The 2013 vintage wines from the OBC soil type showed mostly red fruit aromas, followed by raspberry and cherry. There was a large earthy component followed by perfume. Tiny cedar and some meatiness. The 2014 vintage was mostly red fruit aromas as well. Cherry next, followed by raspberry and perfume together. Smaller amounts follow of leafiness, plum and strawberry.
The flavours for the 2013 vintage were red fruit, cherry, raspberry and perfume all about the same amount. There was lesser plum, and tiny amounts of cedar and leafiness and strawberry. The 2014 showed more red fruit, then slightly less was raspberry, then plum, and last cherry. Perfume component less than raspberry but more than plum. Earthiness and leafiness very small component.
The wineries with vineyards with this soil type are:
- Thornhaven Estates (2 wines)
- Seven Directions (Canyonview Vineyard)
- Haywire (2 wines) (Canyonview Vineyard)
- Noble Ridge Vineyards & Winery
- Meyer Family Vineyards (McLean Creek Vineyard)
- Fort Berens Estate Winery
- See Ya Later Ranch
- Sumac Ridge Estate Winery
- Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
- Gehringer Brothers (2 wines)
- Hillside Estate Winery
The third soil type Orthic Dark Brown Chernozem (ODBC), had 5 wines associated with it.
All the wines from the ODBC soil type came from the 2014 vintage only. The aromas from the grapes for the ODBC soil were red fruit first followed cherry and black fruit. Perfume next and leafiness. Raspberry, plum, and strawberry showed less than leafiness. One item to note for this word cloud and the others is that I used “Red fruit” as a more encompassing term when I cannot pick apart if the flavour is predominantly or distinctly raspberry or strawberry.
The flavours for these wines from the 2014 vintage were mainly red fruit and cherry. They did have a large perfume component. Some meatiness. Less specific notes of strawberry and raspberry.
The winery vineyards with this soil type are:
- Gehringer Brothers (2 wines)
- Robin Ridge
- Evolve Cellars
- SpierHead Winery (Golden Retreat Vineyard)
The other soil types had 3 or fewer vineyards associated with them and will be discussed later in this article.
Major Aromas and Flavours
I would like to talk about these 3 main soil types and the fruit-driven aromas and flavours from the Pinot Noir grapes regardless of vintage.
- The Eluviated Eutric Brunisol (EEB) major aromas were red fruit, black fruit, cherry and raspberry, with a lesser amount of perfume, cedar and plum.
- The Orthic Brown Chernozem (OBC) major aromas were red fruit, cherry and raspberry, with a lesser, but still large contribution from perfume, earthiness and black fruit.
- The Orthic Dark Brown Chernozem (ODBC) major aromas were red fruit first followed cherry and black fruit. Perfume next and leafiness followed.
What immediately jumps out is that red fruit is first in all my lists, which is as I indicated earlier, when I could not determine if I could easily pick out specific red fruits, like strawberry or raspberry. It was interesting that raspberry is more predominant than strawberry for our BC Pinot Noir aromas. Perfume is also quite prominent for our wines.
- The Eluviated Eutric Brunisol (EEB) major flavours were red fruit and black fruit, cherry, and raspberry. Perfume slightly less, then rose, plum, and leafiness.
- The Orthic Brown Chernozem (OBC) major flavours were red fruit, cherry, raspberry and perfume, followed by plum.
- The Orthic Dark Brown Chernozem (ODBC) major flavours were mainly red fruit and cherry. There was also a large perfume component
Red fruit predominates, followed by cherry and raspberry. Again strawberry is not as common a flavour in the wines. Perfume is an important component that comes after the fruit flavours.
Minerality in the Wines?
Out of all 46 wines, I had noted minerality in 18 of the wines; 39%. Of those 18 wines 8 were OBC (8/17 wines), 5 were EEB (5/11 wines), and 2 were the ODBC soil type (2/5 wines). ~45-47% of these soil types show an expression of minerality in the wines. EEB soils may also weakly calcareous and neutral in pH. If the OBC soils were glaciolacustrine then the soil would have moderate to very strong calcium carbonate presence, otherwise if fluvial or glacialfluvial then calcium carbonate would be very weak. ODBC soils tend to have a moderate to very strong calcium carbonate component. I am guessing that the OBC soils were (glacial)fluvial and have the moderate calcium carbonate component. It is interesting that the EEB soils, although noted their weak calcium carbonate component, still showed minerality as strongly as OBC and ODBC.
The Remaining Soil Types Aroma and Flavour Profiles
There is only 1-3 vineyards for each of these soil types, so I cannot make any confident comments about the typical aromas and flavours for the Pinot Noir wines produced. View these samples below with a grain of salt.
The winery vineyards with the OEB soil type are:
- Niche Wine Co (2 wines)
- Baillie Grohman
The winery vineyards with this soil type (RBC) are:
- Bench 1775
- Nk’Mip Cellars
The winery vineyard with the Orthic Grey Luvisol soil type is Quails’ Gate (2 wines).
The three wineries with the Eluviated Dark Brown Chernozem soil type are:
- Sperling Vineyards
- Upper Bench Estate Winery
Duric Dystric Brunisol soil type is found at the Blue Grouse Estate Winery.
Gleyed Dystric Brunisol soil is found at the Averill Creek Winery.
There is a lot of information to absorb and sift through above. You may want to come back to it a few times and see if you glean more information on each visit.
I have one last step to this study of BC Pinot Noir to produce an interactive map that has all the information I produced for each wines so you can explore the data yourself. Cheers!
The articles that led up to these results are as follows: