Geologist to discuss local wines and a ‘taste of place’

MIDDLEBURY — When one thinks of a French wine, perhaps Bordeaux or Beaujolais comes to mind.
That’s the concept of “terroir” at play: the “taste of place” that is so central to French wines. And the concept is one that Scott Burns, a professor of geology at Portland State University, is extending to home turf with his studies of how soil type affects wine in his home state of Oregon.
Burns will be at Lincoln Peak Vineyard next Tuesday evening to speak about “The Mystery of Terroir,” delving into the impact of climate, soils and other geological factors on wine.
The event is part of Burns’s national lecture tour on applied geology, which he was awarded by the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists and the Geological Society of America. The three talks he is offering are all about putting geology in a human context, and the main one is about urban landslides.
“I could talk about magma this and magma that, but it doesn’t apply to humans,” he said.
Burns’s stop in Vermont also includes several talks at the University of Vermont and the urban landslides talk at Middlebury College.
Burns said the terroir one has been the most popular of the three he is offering. It’s not a surprise that people like hearing about wine, said Burns — each state in the U.S. has at least one winery.
In the U.S., wine labels tend to focus on grape type, like Pinot Noir, Marquette, or Zinfandel.
But soil also makes a big difference.
“The French have been using “terroir” for over 400 years to refer to wines,” he said. “Each region has a particular taste … and one of the factors that leads to the differences is soil.”
The different soils within the state of Oregon, said Burns, produce notably different tastes: grapes grown in soils formed of volcanic bedrock are lighter, with a taste of raspberry and light-colored fruits. Those grown on soil with higher marine sediments are darker, with hints of blackberries and darker fruits.
Some of the differences in wine can be attributed to the winemaker, the vineyard or the equipment. But, said Burns, these soil-dependent aspects of the wine are completely independent of the winemaking process.
“We do know that there’s a difference,” he said. “The great debate out there is which soil produces the best Pinot Noir.”
And it’s a classification that’s starting to become popular for other products, too, said Burns.
“The name goes back to wine, but people are now using it for coffee.”
Burns will give his “Mystery of Terroir” talk at Lincoln Peak Vineyard at 7:30 on Tuesday, January 24. The event is free, and sponsored by the Middlebury College Geology Department.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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