Yes, you read that right: Volcanoes. The exploding mountains that dot our amazing planet. Just so happens that if you overlay a map of numerous volcanoes with a map of some of the world’s best winemaking regions, voila, they’ll magically sync up pretty well.
Most people probably don’t know (or realize) that Napa Valley and nearby Lake County feature a wealth of volcanic soil from plenty of activity over the (millions of) years. And if you ‘zoom out’ you’ll notice that the string of volcanoes that helped form much of the Sierra Nevadas, Cascades, Olympic Mountains, and other chains that run the West Coast often feature fantastic wine regions in their valleys (one such is the Willamette Valley in Oregon).
What do volcanic soils add to wine? A lot. “Wines from the several types of volcanic soils—lava, pumice, ash, basalt, and more—can vary widely, but most share complex aromas, mouthwatering high acidity, and salty, savory, earthy flavors. The porosity of these soils stores more water, which contributes to the wines’ characteristic freshness and exuberance.” (source: Bloomberg)
Now, we’re not saying you should only drink wines made by volcanoes, but if you want a truly otherworldly quaffing experience, maybe you should? One of the funkiest and most outlandish places where vines have been planted is literally inside crater-like bunkers carved out of the dense black ash on Spain’s Canary Islands.
The Greek Islands and Italy’s famed Sicily (an island featuring Mt. Etna) are volcanic masterpieces known for incredible wines. Can’t forget to mention the famed Mt. Vesuvius near Naples, New Zealand’s rugged Central Otago region, and Washington State’s rich, volcanic history thia is now eminently tied to their great wines. We even found a Vineyards & Volcanoes tour around the state of Washington.
There is (or at least was, pre-Covid) an International Volcanic Wine Conference!
And there have been a few books written on the subject: Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power and Volcanoes and Wine: From Pompeii to Napa
Winemakers who make wine in areas of still active volcanoes find the risk is well worth the reward because of the compelling complexities and incredible textures you can extract from the soils. Bacteria and other harmful microbes have a hard time growing in volcanic soils while, alternately, they drain well (so grapes aren’t oversaturated and washed out) yet retain incredible minerality lending earthy, smokey, stone-y notes.
So next time someone says ‘Hey, let’s go get some wine’ you might just suggest strapping on some rugged boots and taking the trouble to get your hands on some gritty, powerful, unique, and fascinating wines born from volcanoes. You might say they’ve been erupting in popularity for quite some time.