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From the Editor

Terroir — the very word brings an ache of fear, and a trailing smile of knowing and mystery. It is first too close in language to the terrible topic of the day, but then swirls into history, culture, science and some fun. We started the summer of 2004 (in the Northern Hemisphere) with the June issue devoted to vacation shrines with geological underpinnings. Following the crackerjack July Highlights issue, it seems fitting that we should take a moment to sit back and reflect on the progress of the summer with an issue on fine wine.

Inspired by a session on the topic of geology and wine at the fall meeting of the Geological Society of America and by what seems to be a burgeoning body of literature on the topic, we put together a suite of stories — a beautiful blend of serious science and cultural art. Happy sipping!

In our lead feature story, “Understanding the Mysteries of the Grape,” Larry Meinert notes that “terroir involves the complex interplay of climate, soil, geology and culture” in influencing the characteristics and quality of wine. He goes on to emphasize the importance of understanding the physical environment. To illustrate his point, he makes reference to the glacial sediments and loess deposits, and weathering and soil profiles of famous wine districts in Washington, New York, France and New Zealand.

In the second feature story, Gregory Jones hones in on one very important factor of terroir — climate. In “Making Wine in a Changing Climate,” Jones described climate as the wild card that limits the geographical distribution of grapes and determines yield and quality differences between years and regions. Research by Jones and his colleagues has shown an increase in temperature over the past 50 years in the majority of the world’s high quality wine-producing regions, generally improving vintage ratings. Projected average temperature increases over the next 50 years, however, for the same wine regions, find that the varieties currently grown there will be at or near the upper limit of their ripening potential, resulting in decreased wine quality. When that starts to happen, global warming will really have captured public attention! That is, if the recent besting of English sparkling wines over French champagne in taste tests hasn’t already done so.

In our final wine feature, Susan Hubbard and Yoram Rubin emphasize the importance of localized geologic variations in vineyards and their impact on the amount and timing of water demand by vine roots and the significance to grape yield and quality. The authors discuss potential applications of techniques such as multi-spectral remote sensing and ground penetrating radar to “precision agriculture,” including field tests that have been run at the Robert Mondavi and Dehlinger wineries in California.

Our Geologic Column this month also comes from the vineyards of California. In “California Wines: Well-Shaken and Stirred,” Susan Hough, a Geotimes corresponding editor, spotlights California’s improbable coincidence of renowned terroir, temblors and teeming Homo sapiens. Or is it so improbable? Aren’t regions of great terroir generally great places to live, and don’t most places have great geology?

Earth science and terroir might just be the perfect pair. The former weaves together climate, hydrology, landscape, soil, cultural practices and the patience of time, and the latter benefits more beneficially from the same characteristics than anything else we have learned to sip.

Believe your compass, but don’t mix navigating with wine!

Samuel S. Adams
Geotimes Editor-in-Chief

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