Sunrise-curls would be the direct translation of Albariza and the poetry of those words are not lost on the soil itself. Rising up on rolling hills around the Appellation of Jerez, peeling white with a chalky texture, albariza is the premium soil for winemaking in the region.
Formulated from fossilised diatoms from the Oligocene period when Jerez was under water, albariza is the remnants of an aquatic existence. Albariza is high in limestone content and very low in organic matter. Extremely light, with low density and exceptional porosity, albariza provides a unique and special soil for the oenologist.
Jerez’s climate is one of sunshine broken sporadically by heavy rain. The summer months are usually dry and sunny, during the growing season the vines draw on moisture from the ground rather than the skies. Annual rainfall is high and albariza’s porosity locks in moisture creating a water reserve that the roots can tap into in warmer months.
Whilst albariza retains moisture, the soil also provides superb drainage ensuring the vine’s root system is dry and not inundated. It doesn’t rain in Jerez, it comes down in sheets, running the risk of waterlogged vines and the loss of topsoil. Here man and soil work together to find a solution. Between the rows of vines small troughs are dug into the soil to capture the rain and prevent run-off (asperia or alumbra). Whilst the albariza soil sucks in water like a sponge any excess drains away leaving the root system healthy.
Counterintuitively albariza’s low organic matter and poor nutrients is another boon. Vine vigour is an important prerequisite to exceptional fruit. In times of plenty the vines will extend their branches and grow foliage, however when resources are scarce all effort is focused on survival i.e. reproduction. With a lower yield and concentrated grapes, the fruit from albariza soil is of an exceptional quality for albariza soil produces excellent fruit for wine making.
There are dozens of albariza varietals of which 3 3 are especially prized:; Tosca de Lentejuelas, Tosca de Cerrada and Tosca de Barrajuelas.
Tosca de Lentejuelas is a soft, almost fluffy, soil with a high diatom content-, mainly found in the albariza “islands” along the coast and above Sanlúcar de Barrameda - is a soft, almost fluffy, soil with a high diatom content. Vines grown here produce structured white wines with freshness and zip. Lentejuelas is perfect for grapes destined for biological aging. Pago Miraflores, gently inclined towards the Atlantic just south of Sanlúcar produces some of the best Manzanillas including Diatomists’ Single Pago Manzanilla from Miraflores Baja. Diatomists Single Pago Fino from Chiclana also benefits from this Lentejuelas albariza mixed with a small portion of red clay (Lujan). The combination produces a Fino with ripe fruit aromas and floral freshness.
Tosca de Cerrada – as the name suggests “cerrada” meaning closed - is less fractured and more solid with a smaller proportion of diatoms. When wet, however, the albariza becomes very soft and brittlee. Cerrada is the predominant albariza soil in the Appellation of Jerez. Grapes grown in the soil are notable for a “chalky” quality and produce wine that hasve a fuller more generous feel in the mouth.
Finally, Finally, Tosca de Barrajuelas – named after a deck of cards – holds the highest contents of diatoms. The soil is very light and comes in sheets almost like puff pastry (or a deck of cards, the direct translation of barrajuela). Barrajuela soil is found in the highest hilltops and the wines produced are renowned for their sapidity and grip on the palate.
Champagne is famous for its chalk soil and the quality of the grapes. Like Jerez, the soil in both Appellations provide excellent conditions for the winemaker – porosity, good drainage, and a low yield coupled with vine vigour. Champagne has a classification of 1er Cru and Grand Cru which Jerez would do well to follow. For now, Diatomists are working with growers in the region to illustrate the evident distinctions between albariza soils and the wines they produce. Albariza is unique and the wines of the region are singular in their expression.