Soils and Minerality
From the climate and soil, to the people and their wines, the Santa Ynez Valley is certainly one of the most special regions we have ever come across. We are truly honored to be a part of it.
Derived from fossilized sea life and transported as alluvium, Santa Rita Hills' soils are similar to those found in Champagne, Chablis and the Cote D'or. These soils are essential for the age-worthy and stunning Chardonnay that comes from each of these regions. While Calcium via chalk and limestone supplies the minerality that shines through in France, it is Calcium Silicate (aka; Silica) by way of Diatomaceous Earth that does the trick here. Diatomaceous earth, the parent material for the major soil types within the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, is made up of Diatoms (the skeletons of ancient sea creatures). Combined with the alluvial nature of these ancient Sandy Loam soils, SRH provides the perfect storm for acid-retaining, mineral-rich Chardonnay.
Diatomaceous earth (i.e., fossil marine skeletons) is readily available as the soil parent material throughout the SRH. Composed of white porous rock high in Calcium Silicate (aka; Silica) a mineral with higher porosity than both chalk or limestone. In conjunction with the cool coastal climate within the SRH AVA, grapes grown in this environment exhibit soil minerality in the wine that we can actually taste.
Sandy Loam soil is composed of approximately 60% sand, 15% silt, and 15% clay. These soils retain the optimal amount of water and plant essential nutrients, also allowing for rapid internal soil water movement. The combination of different Sandy Loam soil types in the SRH AVA is ideal for growing grapes of excellent quality.
Loam soil, dubbed the quintessential and ideal soil, is composed of roughly 40% sand soil, 40% silt soil and 20% clay soil. Loam tends to be a coarser soil. Loam soil with more clay is called clay loam soil and loam soil with more sand is called sand loam soil. The combination of different soil types creates an excellent soil for cultivation. Loam soil ideally, due to the clay percentage, retains just the right amount of water and nutrients, and due to the sand percentage, drains the right amount of water—making loam soil one of the easiest soils with which to work.
Santa Rita Hills AVA soils-related text kindly edited by Cal Poly Professor:
Thomas J. Rice, Ph.D., C.P.S.S.
Certified Professional Soil Scientist No. 1932
Back in 2006, I attended a Cal Poly lecture given by the legendary Keith Patterson, PhD of Viticulture, covering climate and a little thing called the Winkler Scale of Growing Degree Days. In that class I learned that Region I is the coolest possible wine-growing climate, similar to regions like Champagne and Burgundy. Optimal grape varietals for Region I's include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir. The entirety of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA falls within (and sometimes below!) this chilly Region 1 due to the marine influence that the unique east-to-west mountain range allows, creating a trough for cool air funnels through like a champ. Cool climates make for grapes with naturally high acidity, lower potential alcohol when picked soon after phenologically ripe, and produce Chardonnay that exhibits the left scale of the following varietal markers and characteristics:
|Cool Climate||Moderate Climate||Warm Climate|
|Region 1||Region 2 & 3||Region 4 & 5|
|Sta. Rita Hills/Chablis||Bordeaux/Rhône/Santa Ynez Valley||Southern Spain/East Paso Robles|
|apple, pear||stone fruits||tropical fruits|
|Earth w/ pure fruit||Pure Fruit||Candied fruit|
|High acidity||Moderate Acidity||Low Acidity|
|Lowest Alc.||Moderate Alc.||Higher Alc.|
|Great minerality potential||Little minerality||No minerality|
What you get on the far left is what we're addicted to in wines from Region 1's like Burgundy and other über-cool climates such as the Loire Valley, Northern Italy and North Western Spain. So, step 1, Cool climate – check! But, as studies are showing and resulting wines support, the soils also have to be well drained and possess some type of white porous rock – like chalk in Chablis and limestone in Burgundy – to give way to truly stressed vines that make complex wines which have longevity potential to develop even more complexity in the bottle. You also then have the potential for minerality to shine through in the wine.
Luckily, Sta. Rita Hills is blessed with incredible ancient soils that are extremely Chardonnay suited. The sandy-alluvial soils drain like nobody's business (picture how fast water would go through thick clay vs. beach sand). This means that the vines have to get crafty and dig deep for water. And, just like people who are stronger and more complex when they have overcome challenges, vines are the same. If they have it on easy street with rich, fertile soils and never have to work for water, the personality of the wine reflects that – it's usually more monotone with less going on. Additionally, to have minerality potential you need that white porous rock and in a very cool climate. The diatomaceous soils that flow through this undoubtedly cool region are made up basically of pure silica. So, Step 2. Well drained – check! And, step 3. White porous rock, check!
Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay has this delicious unmistakable minerality that comes through the wines' aroma and palate with a saline-like quality. When we first really started falling in love with wine, a non-pretentious person who we greatly respect told us that you can always tell a truly great wine no matter your level of wine knowledge or taste preferences because, "it will have no holes." The Sta. Rita Hills AVA is uniquely capable of such hole-free wines. Texturally, the LF Chardonnays have what we simple-mindedly describe as "no arms or legs" -- or if you prefer, "no holes." The wines glide across the palate from start to finish with both grace and seduction and most importantly, leave you eagerly headed back to the glass or bottle for more… the ultimate quality test.