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08.04.2006

Dead Fish Lead to Good Wine

As if the famously untranslatable French concept of terroir wasn't complicated enough. Harrumph. We wine lovers have enough on our hands arguing late into the evening about whether local yeast is part of terroir; or whether it includes or excludes climate and weather; or if in fact it is only soil geology; or perhaps if it is something beyond the knowledge of man. Its all so very complicated, and now apparently we have to factor in the nearby dead fish as well.

Good grief.

Yet we cannot deny the fact that there really is something to the notion of a circle of life, no matter how awful that Disney song really is. Fisheries biologists (though perhaps not the MOST objective people in matters such as these) have determined that the dead salmon in the Mokelumne and Calaveras river drainages in Northern California may be responsible for up to 25% of the nitrogen in the soil in the vineyard lands immediately surrounding the river.

It sounds crazy at first, but the carcasses of the Salmon, who die naturally after spawning, become food for dozens of scavenger species who then drag, drop, and excrete bits of salmon onto the surrounding land where it enriches the soil. You've heard the one about the bear in the woods right? What about the vulture in the vineyard?

Of course this is all moot for some, who claim that California vineyards have no terroir (and are therefore inferior to those in Europe that do possess this mystical elusive quality) but I for one, will definitely be looking for that small hint of marine vertebrate the next time I taste something from Amador county.

Read the full story. And then be glad this wasn't about wine made from dead fish.

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