Mineral content clue to vine health

Soil and vine health should be assessed according to the mineral content in a wine, says Olivier Humbrecht MW.

Speaking at this month’s Biodyvin tasting in London, Humbrecht stated, “Finding a high mineral fraction in a wine is a sign of a soil that functions properly and a sign that the vine is able to extract these minerals from the soil.”

Humbrecht, who is president of the 15 year-old Biodyvin association, made this comment during a seminar called “Minerality in biodynamic wines” held during the London tasting.

He said that the subject was “controversial”, but chosen because “the main goal of being biodynamic is to make better wine, and therefore one would expect to see minerality in the wine”.

However, he stressed that assessing the mineral component required complicated analysis, and that the minerals in the wine could not be smelt. He also said that they are often wrongly confused with wine faults such as reduction.

“The most common mistake is to associate reductivity with minerality,” he warned, adding, “It is also a big mistake to confuse an unripe character with minerality on the palate.”

On the other hand, he explained, “Minerality is something you must learn to recognise on the palate – you might not smell anything but you will taste something… it will modifty the structure in terms of acidity and pH, and can also give the salty taste in a wine.”

Then he stated, “Wine with high mineral content should be a wine that makes you salivate.”

Explaining the role of biodynamics in enhancing this mineral fraction, he pointed out that the farming practice fed beneficial micro-organisms in the soil which help the roots break down and take up minerals in the surrounding soil.

“The best way to test if a vineyard is properly manged is to look at the activity around the roots. You should find lots of micro-organisms which look like a veil of little white mushrooms. These help to degrade the soil around the vine and without them the vine won’t function property, and you have to compensate using fertilisers.

“These mycorrhizae disappear under compaction and chemicals,” he added, referring to the drawbacks of conventional viticultural practices.

Speaking to the drinks business after the seminar, Humbrecht elaborated on the comments above, adding, “Biodynamic farming is all about allowing the soil to function properly… and for the soil to funciton properly it has to be alive, it has to have a lot of micro-organisms in the soil and it needs to be airy because they need oxygen. And you also need to have food for these micro organisms – and food for them is organic matter.”

As for the seminar title, he said it was chosen to highlight the role of minerality in the creation of fine wines.

“When we speak about quality we also want the wine to show the characteristics of the place it is coming from, and I could use the word ‘terroir’, but I used the word minerality because I thought it was more appropriate, more precise.

Then Humbrecht added, “Is the wine with a higher mineral content better than one with a lower mineral content? That could be debatable, but you will at least have the guarantee what you taste will have a real signature of the place it comes from.”

the drinks business has reported extensively on the issue of minerality in wines – click here for more on the subject.

6 Responses to “Mineral content clue to vine health”

  1. Andrew Leembruggen says:

    Vague and sweeping assertions with little basis in fact are the perfect muse for the wine writer; this is appalling writing.

  2. Sean says:

    Show me the science

  3. Mike says:

    Yes vague and sweeping assertion it is – any soil scientist will tell you that all the elements that make up the mineral content of a wine move or don not move into the plant depending on the pH of the soil. As soils around the world have varying pH levels so more or less of these elements will be taken up by the plant. So the assumption must be the ideal soil pH (Can he tell us please) will be the soil that is functioning properly and all other soil pH’s are disfunctionional soils.
    Mr. Olivier please sir.

  4. Dagger says:

    Nothing in this but unscientific unsubstantiated conjecture. aka I like the minerality character (yes it might exist), and I’m committed to biodynamic viticulture, therefore I’ll construct some pseudoscience to justifiy why biodynamicism will be more likely to get me there. An MW is not an MSc, so please don’t talk about things you don’t understand.

  5. Al says:

    Doesn’t sound very scientific. But there’s more about wine than science. I still prefer his wine rather than many others…

  6. Graham R says:

    In response to Mike’s comments, I agree that soil pH plays an important role in the nutition of the vine and the final acidity of the wine. I must confess I was once a complete Biodynamic Viticulture sceptic. However, having spent months studying the literature on the role which microbes in the soil play in demineralizing rocks so that individual mineral ions (eg water soluble mineral ions which come into contact with vine roots) – I can without doubt state that a healthy microbially diverse soil has a direct impact on not only the quantity but the type of minerals which become available to the vine. Many minerals are unavailable to the plant because they are locked up in humus or else form part of inorganic complexes, such as rocks, silt, clay particles etc. Mineralizing these “minerals” to become free mineral ions often requires the help of microbes to create enough of them to support vine nuitrition. Although some are created by weathering, freeze thaw, erosion, geological events, chemical reactions etc How these mineral ions (perhaps as salts or integrated into other molecules – reach your glass is an even more complex story. Socalled intervening or distancing reactions, complete with the intervention of man by way of winery treatments and the action of yeast etc.
    I agree that that the subject is extremely complicated and MWs tend to oversimply, even create fantasy mechanisms to explain “rock to glass”. However they are largely intuitively correct. Its just scientists have barely scaped the surface on this subject. You may find this fascinationg on Terroir. A scientific DNA stiudy has shown that the pool of soil microbial DNA in say an area like Priorat, is totally different from that of say Northern California. So regarless of planting identical clones and using identical root stock and seeking out similar climatic conditions, the microbes beneath the surface are different and may well contribute their uniqie signature to the wine. There is no agreement (or understanding) on minerals in the soil contributing directly to “minerality taste”, – that is such a messy subject I will leave it alone for now.

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