What is Minerality? Maybe We Can Learn from a Crocus
A few months ago, I offered a rather rudimentary drawing that maps out what I think might be the process by which minerality expresses itself in a finished wine. A contentious issue, the debate over the existence of minerality in a wine is one in which I want to dedicate more time pursuing. However, there simply isn’t tough in the day for me to read as much as I’d like about the topic. In the meantime, after a long run this afternoon, I came home to rest in my garden and sat near a crocus – a delicate harbinger that Spring is near in New Jersey. As I fiddled with the crocus and checked on the soil in the tomato garden, I had a thought. A crocus, like a grapevine, an orange tree or just about anything organic (little o), the plant and flower is nothing more than the sum of various parts of its micro-environment – sun, water, soil, minerals, elements, etc… With that premise being accepted as true, then there must be at least trace amounts of its environment within its structure – water, acids, sugars and minerals. What’s in the soil and air must also be in the plant – on some level, at least. Therefore, could the same could be said for grapes – they are also the sum of various parts working together to form the vine, flowers and fruit. And like a crocus, minerals, water, sunlight and chemical applications (or lack thereof hopefully) all must affect what’s constitutes the final makeup of a grape and its subsequent juice before being manipulated (at whatever level) in the winery.
Therefore, if we accept that these different environmental factors contribute to the physical constitution of a grape, can’t we assume that there is some form of inherent minerality within the grape as well? And our ability to perceive minerality is based, at least in part, on how much is transferred from the soil to the grape without being marred by various other factors, such as chemical fertilizer, overly ripe fruity characteristics and heavy handed manipulation in the winery. Perhaps the difficulty in understanding if minerality exists is that we are looking in the wrong place for our answers. A pedologist would claim that chalk isn’t inherent in a bunch of Chardonnay grapes harvest from the Les Clos vineyard in Chablis. That may be so – but perhaps as the vine grows and producers fruit, there is an uptake of something within the soil that triggers our ability to perceive soil characteristics in the finished wine. And instead of looking for traces of what constitutes the soil in the wine, we should instead look for other qualities in the grape that might cause those elements to be perceived.
Perhaps all of these questions can be easily answered by science and my backyard philosophical rumination is a bit antiquated. But I am not so sure that what’s in the soil is absent from wines that I drink – just as the crocuses that are popping up in my tomato garden are nothing more than various factors in nature working harmoniously to produce a flower very specific to that particular sense of time and place.