Burgundy Part Un – A Geology Lesson?

See this guy.  His name is Jean-Michel.  He has ruined wine for us. Before we took the best wine tour ever with him, we were happy drinking almost anything.*  The other night after a long day of work, he passed on a (free) red because he didn’t like the smell. I rest my case.

Jean-Michel (a tour guide par excellence) said that to understand Burgundy, we must understand its geology.  Burgundy doesn’t produce tons of wine, but it produces very good wines and some outstanding (ridiculously expensive) ones.  Why? Geology.

Millions of years ago, Burgundy was the seaside.  Over time, as pressure from the African and European plates, caused the layers of soil to bend and fracture.  Glaciers further shattered them.  The vineyards still follow this fault line.  There is a narrow strip with great soil (for growing wine) whose diversity is due to the breakup of these layers.

The shakeup of the seaside yielded the  perfect mix for growing wine in certain really specific areas (the dispersed bits and pieces combined with microclimates are the main reasons for Burgandy’s notorious complexity).

Burgundy is in France.  As a result, it didn’t take long for people to realize and exploit its wine growing potential.  Jean-Michel explained that the monastic orders became the first major vineyard owners.  With land, time to study and a dedication to physical labor, they quickly learned how different vineyard plots consistently gave different wines.  When popes took a liking to their wines, the monks had a powerful bargaining chip that they used and keenly protected (keeping the quality high).

Making a valuable commodity like good wine made the monks rich and powerful.  This is just one of their several wine presses.  they meant business.  The monk’s summer residence.  Clearly, they weren’t hurting.

After Burgundy became part of the France, the power of the church decreased and many vineyards were sold.  During the French Revolution, the church’s remaining vineyards were seized and sold.  Napoleonic inheritance laws caused the continual subdivision of the most precious vineyard land.  As a result, many modern day growers only hold a row or two of vines!  The different colors, stakes and markers at the end of the rows below differentiate the rows of different owners!

*Except for maybe Boone’s Farm.

 
 

 

Advertisements

An Underground Lake!

When we went to the Matterhorn, we saw the geology of Switzerland firsthand.  On the way back, our quads were sore and we weren’t up to another big hike.  As a result, we decided to see the underground lake at St. Leonard in Valais.  It was touristy, a bit cheesy, another geology lesson and cooler than I am making it sound.  

The lake was discovered in 1943, during a the search for water in a drought.* In 1946 an earthquake opened some more fissures that lowered the water-level.  This made it accessible.   We entered down the stairs and climbed into these large rowboats.  Sorry if the pictures are blurry.  The low light and the movement of the boat (and the other 41 people on it), made them challenging to take.   They definitely do not do its beauty justice.
The water in Switzerland’s lakes is lovely and crystal clear.  The water in this cave is even more so.  It is a constant at 11 °C (52 °F) and it is always 15 °C (59 °F).
 

How can there be fish in this lake you ask?  So did we.  They are Rainbow Trout.  They have no natural food source and no predators so they were HUGE.  The guide feeds them from the rowboat.  They were pretty cool to see up close.  I’m not sure who was more into them, the kids in the boat or their parents.

The lake was closed from 2000 to 2003, to improve the cave’s stability.  Clearly, they put in tons of ceiling support.  If I remember correctly, each side of the cave is a different type of stone and the ceiling is a third.   Unfortunately, that one is softer (I don’t want to give you the wrong type so I won’t name it).

*St. Leonard lies in an area of Valais that is the sunniest part of Switzerland.