Grower Interest Enhances Local Soil Surveys in Oregon
|A connoisseur may describe a 2006 Willamette
Valley pinot noir with phrases like,
deep ruby red color, layers of
fruit, well-balanced with fresh acidity, medium-light body,
a hint of
truffles, a layer of soil/mineral character, and so on. At the same
soil scientist may describe the soil in which it’s grown as deep
and well-drained, layers
of dark reddish brown silty clay loam and dark
reddish brown and red clay, strongly or
moderately acid, medium to
moderately fine textures, and so on. This congruence
of perspectives on
wine and dirt is not lost on winegrape growers.
It’s no secret that successful farmers know as much about their soil as they
do about the crops they grow in it. None illustrate this fact more than vineyard
operators in Oregon’s wine region. Several years ago, they began working closely
with soil scientists from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to
develop increasingly detailed soil data for the Willamette Valley.
The NRCS Soil Survey program is tasked with producing and distributing in-depth
soil data and maps for the entire nation. This entails painstaking work to
sample, analyze and describe the soil’s characteristics. It also means that soil
scientists need permission to excavate small soil pits on private land to
collect the most comprehensive information. "Wine growers," according to NRCS
soil scientist Dave Johnson, "are exceptionally receptive to this."
Johnson is responsible for compiling soil-related information in the valley.
Because of the interest and enthusiasm of the local wine industry, he has been
granted unparalleled access to increase the sampling ratio for the region. By
digging more pits on more vineyards, Johnson is producing more revealing data
for increasingly localized areas. "The information is added to the county soil
survey and contributes to more sophisticated soils data," Johnson explains.
For wine grape growers, this means more information about the soils in their
vineyards, which can differ between areas that are perhaps only a few rows
apart. This helps growers make decisions about the variety of grapes grown, how
to care for them, and when to plant and harvest different sections of a
This all translates to quality. For vintners, it's the ability to make fine wine
and for NRCS, it means developing top-notch data for all of the area's land
NRCS—Helping people help the land.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides leadership
in a partnership effort to help people
conserve, maintain, and improve our natural resources and environment.
An Equal Opportunity Provider and Employer.
November 11, 2007
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