Licking Rocks: An Epoch Pastime

I’m gonna fill you in on a little known secret about our Epoch family…

We love to lick rocks.

Geology 101 style.

I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember that awkward feeling of being a college freshman…(I could stop there, but this type of awkward is very specific)…in Geology 101 and being forced to stick my tongue out to lick rocks amongst my (kind of cute and older) male lab partners in order to determine what kind of rock we were working with at the time.  I felt like maybe they should take me on a date or something first, but nevertheless, giving that rock a good lick was just part of the process.  I have a hunch some of you might have had this same experience in Geology lab.  It might not have felt natural then, and it probably won’t now, but HEY, we are bringin’ rock licking back in style anyway!

Turns out, you can learn a lot about a rock by licking it…where it’s been, what it’s made of, what it’s capable of, so….germs, schwerms….let’s lick rocks, people!

We have been doing this behind closed doors for quite some time now, and we have finally started to let our guards down and do it in front of people, and when appropriate, even ask others to get in the game!

Thanks to Faith Wells, we captured this new rock-licking-phenomena on camera at last week’s Foremost Wine Dinner…and with innocent bystanders no-less!  If you cannot tell from this collage, these rocks are sticking…more like clinging for dear life…onto the tongues of these Wine Dinner attendees.  Crazy, right!?!  Well to assure you that we do not have some kind of weird rock-licking fetish, here is the science behind why we have people do this and why it is important for our vines…

These rocks are shale and can be found on both our Paderewski and Catapult properties.  They are very porous (porous enough to stick on your tongue) because of the material that comprises them – compressed diatoms (silica) from the bottom of the ocean million and millions of years ago.

The shale pictured here is a very special type of shale.  Believe it or not, not all shales are alike.  I won’t inflict on you the memories of me as a kid taking road trips through the western USA and listening to my geology parents geek out as we drove by at 75 mph, pointing to the outcrops of shale on the side of the road and identifiying them.  (“Look at that black shale, how cool is that?!? Did you see that cool anticlinal fold?!”…that type of thing).  Our shale at Epoch just happens to be made of almost all silica…kind of a rare thing…certainly a rare thing in the wine world.  When I say silica, it is like the type that is on your computer chip…thus the name “Silicon” Valley.   Your trivia for the day…you’re welcome.  Ü

Ok, so why were my nerdy Geologist parents pumped about finding this special, porous shale on our vineyard site back in 2004?!?  A good question indeed, and here are some answers…some direct quotes from aforementioned Geology nerds. ; )

Because shale has little to no nutritional value, it makes the vines struggle for nutrients, thereby forcing their roots deeper.  Sounds like tough love, I know, but it’s good for our vines to struggle; being forced to dig deeper into the earth adds complexity and minerality to our precious fruit.  One might say there is a metaphor in there for our own lives, buuuut I digress…

Since these rocks are almost 100% silica, they are ostensibly a type of glass (like your windshield in your car), and therefore break (shatter) like a glass product, enabling the roots to travel deeper into the earth in search of water and nutrients through the fractures.

Another reason this porous rock is an important element of our soils is its micro porosity retains water, which is particularly important during a drought season like we have been in…

SO, long, sticky story short, we like people to lick our rocks, so they have a first-hand/first-tongue experience with this porous element of our winemaking progress.  Stick around long enough, and we may have you lick one too.

FYI – shale is just part of our soil profile.  We are blessed with some of the finest vineyard land in the world.  Paderewski Vineyard, in particular, is chalk full of white limestone rocks (a soil component that is extremely rare in California).  Some of these rocks contain whale bone fossils…a dream find for history freaks like us…buuuut since these Moby Dick remnants don’t stick on your tongue, we’ll save them for another blog post.

Moral of this story: when in doubt, lick a rock… Ü