The Soils of our Vineyards

We like to refer to Epoch’s three pieces of property as the Trifecta: Paderewski Vineyard, Catapult Vineyard, and York Mountain (home to many things, including the Tasting Room and the York Mountain Vineyard).  It’s no secret that we are super proud of our three different vineyards (have you tasted the wines they produce?!), and it’s also no secret that there are some geologists among us…a.k.a. Liz & Bill Armstrong, Owners of Epoch Estate Wines. We are so passionate about educating our guests, customers, and friends about the different types of soils our vineyards boast because they are the reason Liz & Bill picked these pieces of dirt, and also a large part of the reason our wines taste the way they do. 



Paderewski Vineyard


Also known as “the Rew” or “Paddy,” Paderewski is the O.G. piece of dirt that Bill & Liz bought in Paso, and has proven itself to be one of the best vineyards in the area.  Paderewski is found in the Willow Creek District of West Paso. 


Limestone: This type of sedimentary soil adds nutrients to the grapes that are beneficial to their growth and helps to produce fruit with higher sugar levels, making it an ideal soil type for planting wine grape vines (Did you know that wine grapes are sweeter than table grapes, aka grapes you buy at the store??).  Limestone is often found in an area that once was a large body of water, and can be made up of decomposed bodies of mollusks, fish, and other organic material that lived in these ancient seabeds.  Calcium is one of the minerals that limestone brings to the table, and it manifests in the fruit grown there as disease-resistant grapes with thick skins.  Thick skins are desirable because they are structurally stronger, more resistant to dry conditions, and down the road, will produce amazing color and tannin!  Limestone soils are also ideal for the health of the vines themselves because they are able to absorb and retain moisture for the vines to then utilize during dry summer months.  Besides Paso Robles, some famous regions boasting limestone soils are Burgundy and Champagne in France. 


Calcareous:  Calcareous soil is a cool clay soil that is the result of calcium and magnesium carbonates.  Because this soil is so rich in calcium, calcareous soils produce wines with more concentrated, rich fruit flavors.  Like limestone soils, calcareous soils are great at retaining water, making them another ideal soil type for grape vines, especially here in Paso where it is important to keep the vines alive and well through hot, dry summers.  These soils can retain moisture for months, and a piece of calcareous rock can even take on enough water to gain 1.5x its own weight!  Another fun fact: Paso Robles is the largest calcareous soil formation in California!  Another notable wine producing region of the world harboring calcareous soils is Rioja, Spain.  


Les galets, a French term that directly translates to “the pebbles,” is commonly used to describe the calcareous, rocky vineyards of the Rhône Valley.  This term can also be applied here is Paso, where we have soils that mirror the land in the Rhône (this is a big part of why Rhône grapes are so common in West Paso!).  Fun fact, McPrice Meyers, one of our wonderful peers, has a wine named Les Galets! 


Paderewski rocks.

Rocks in the vineyard on Paderewski.

Catapult Vineyard

“Cat,” Epoch’s second vineyard purchase, was purchased in 2007 and planted in 2008.  This vineyard resides in the Willow Creek District of the Paso Robles AVA as well, but is very close to the Templeton Gap District.  Snuggled up next to Booker and Fulldraw’s vines, Catapult and its neighbors produce world class wines with that distinct Paso balance and intensity. 


Shale: Shale makes up a large portion of the soil at our Catapult Vineyard.  These soils are composed of layers of clay and fine, sedimentary rock granules.  Shale’s most notable characteristic is the thin layer of topsoil coating a virtually watertight clay or limestone foundation.  This nearly impenetrable, yet very shallow, base layer makes it very difficult for vines to access deep nutrients and the water table, yet, we as wine producers love that about shale!  Vines that have to struggle to get their water and nutrients end up producing some of the best and most concentrated fruit around. 


Clay & SiltClay soils are amazing for growing almost anything.  They stay cool, and retain water well.  The dose of clay within the shale soil at Catapult is a wonderful, nourishing juxtaposition to the unforgiving, quickly draining silt.  The higher dose of silt in the soil at Catapult compared to Paderewski and York means that the soil at Cat dries out the fastest, producing really small berries and super concentrated fruit.

Catapult limestone.

Fossils in limestone at Catapult.

York Mountain Vineyard

York Mountain is not only the home of our beautiful Tasting Room, but it is also where our youngest Epoch vineyard is located!  Our York Mountain Vineyard is an entirely different ball game compared to Paderewski and Catapult.  Located closer to the coast, the cooler temperature and sandy soils promote softer wines than this vineyard’s counterparts but still has bursts of complex aromas and flavors.  Be on the look out for our York Mountain label coming in the near future.  


Sand:  York Mountain soil is drastically different than Paderewski and Catapult.  This land is SANDY.  Sandy soils are known to produce wines with high aromatics and lighter color and tannins.  They are well drained and great at retaining heat.  Nerd fact:  Sandy soils are phylloxera (a microscopic aphid that plagues grape vines) resistant making them a great option for growing vines without being attacked by these pests!


Fragmented/Fractured Sandstone:  Sandstone is created from tiny sand sized sedimentary rock, mineral (usually quartz or feldspar!), and organic material particles that have been compacted together over a long period of time.  Sandstone is gritty to the touch and can be found in a range of colors such as grey, yellow, red, and white. 


The soft, sandy soil of the unplanted York Mountain Vineyard back in 2010.

Parts of the York Mountain Vineyard are so sandy that it looks like the beach!

A big thank you to our ever-knowledgeable Vineyard Manager, Kyle Gingras, for helping us to understand and communicate all of the nitty-gritty (dirt joke) about the soils Epoch grapes grow in!