"Karen: Can you tell anything from the color of the soil in a vineyard?"—Jim S. (Atlanta, GA)
Jim: This is a complex question. Let’s start with the fact that vines grow in soils that are distinctly different in color—everything from the white albariza soils of southern Spain and the white limestone soils of Champagne, France, to the licorice-black soils of some Aegean Islands in Greece to the blue-gray slate soils of the Mosel in Germany. The color of a soil can provide information about the climate of the area, the topography of the site, and most importantly, the very creation of the soil. For example, the black soils on the island of Santorini in Greece were the result of a huge volcanic eruption millennia ago. Interestingly, the color of soils can also give viticulturists a hint about the drainage patterns of that site. Bright soils with a reddish or orange tinge, for example, are usually well-drained because such soils have a lot of oxygen which oxidizes and turns the soil reddish in color.