Diverse Program Set for Pacitic Section
David Howell will showcase both his wine and geological expertise during the Pacific Section's annual meeting, set April 29-May 1 in San Jose, Calif.
Regarding wine, Howell and co-author Jonathan Swinchatt will be the hosts for "An Evening of Exploration -- Geology and Wine," set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 30.
Regarding geology, Howell, H. Gary Greene and Nahum Schneidermann will head a Circum-Pacific Council symposium on "Crowding the Rim -- Dealing with Energy Needs, Food and Other Living Resources and Natural Calamities Around the Pacific." The session will be based on the efforts of the Circum-Pacific Council to translate technical knowledge into public understanding, and is being held in remembrance of Michel T. Halbouty, a founder of the Circum-Pacific council.
The Pacific Section meeting will be a joint session with the Geological Society of America's Cordilleran Section. The theme is "Bay, Basins, Basement and Beyond."
A keynote address by Mary Lou Zoback, U.S. Geological Survey, titled "1906 Earthquake Centennial: A Century of Progress in Understanding Earthquake Science," will be held at 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 30.
Complete meeting information
G. Howell is something of a geological sommelier.
comes to the relationship between the land and the wine in California's
Napa Valley, he can talk the talk and walk the walk.
spit he needs work on.
the rationale for his surprisingly popular book, The Winemaker's
Dance, Exploring Terroir in the Napa Valley, co-authored by Jonathan
Swinchett and published by University of California Press, Howell
first wants to clear up his motivation.
was designed not to promote wine," he said, "but geology.
reason I do this wine thing is to get people to think about geology,"
he said. "The wine aspect is a seductive lure, and once I have them
in hand, they must listen to the story of plate tectonics, deep
time, gravity and landslides, climate and weather cycles, glaciation
and sea level changes. And even resource issues if the spirit is
he concluded, "with the offering to relate wine to geology, they
they have. The book has been featured in Newsweek and has gotten
rave reviews from a territorial central California wine industry
that hasn't always embraced outsiders.
of the effort has surprised Howell, an AAPG member, but he's been
through this before ... sort of.
known as "Doctor Mud" during the 1998 El Niño, when he was with
the U.S. Geological Survey as research geologist in Menlo Park,
Calif. But, he said, "Once the daffodils came out and the sun started
to shine, the phone went silent."
a Good Vineyard
climate is one thing; Chablis is another.
(quoting from Warren Winiarski of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars) that great
wine consists of the three Gs: "ground, grapes and guys."
those three elements join in the geological equivalent of a line
dance with other factors that make up the Terroir, which is at the
center of the book's thesis.
definition is place, but Howell says while venue is a necessary
factor in the understanding of terroir, it is not sufficient.
this geologist, a recognized expert on the science of wine, goes
into a long explanation of ... art.
of terroir as the provenance of a painting -- knowing the style,
the artist, the materials used, who owned it, the museums that exhibited
it, how much it sold for -- that's the terroir of painting," he
of wine, it would be the ground, the climate, the history -- but
also what happened to the area, who owned the land, how often the
vineyards changed ownerships, etc.
he said, "is like Silicon Valley, in that it's well-defined. It
happened to be chosen as an agricultural valley, a mono-culture.
It happens to be a great place for wine, and it's also the place
where the best minds came. It wasn't designed to be a tourist industry,
though certainly that's part of it now.
people are there, serious farmers, serious scientists," he continued.
"In short, these people, their histories, their personalities are
all part of the terroir of Napa Valley."
he says, which has a wonderful sense of collaboration and cooperation.
A place, too, that is inhibited by people who have one goal: to
make the best wine in the world.
'80s it was generally believed that good wine was made in the winery,"
he said. "The belief now is that good wine comes from the vineyard.
Clearly, the land, the person and the grape are all important. All
this info impinges on the winemakers, and each dances in a slightly
think the book's illustrations bring to life the otherwise seemingly
static view of rocks and dirt."
unlike its rich relation, the Bordeaux region in France, has been
doing this for only about 60 years, and most of what was learned
in the years before Prohibition has been lost. California is on
a fast learning track.
laughs when asked whether a book like this would have been tolerated
much more certain they're correct about what they're doing over
there," he said.
they have reason to be, Howell tips his geological hat.
they make awfully good wine."
has gotten some ribbing -- some gentle, some not -- over what some "serious scientists" consider the book's "popcorn" science.
large, people let me do it," he said. "Besides, I'm retired from
the USGS, so I don't have to defend myself."
said he was hoping to de-mystify geology and to explain the process
of wine making -- a process, he hoped, that both a novice and experienced
engineer would find interesting.
it this way: "Wine has some science, it has lots of art, and frankly
the market place evaluates each on a daily basis."
of the connection? Does geology have any effect on wine?
certainly," he says, "but I can't tell you exactly how."
way, however, he made two significant connections between the two.
the most stunning is the occurrence of large mega-landslides and
all of the conditions that led us to this conclusion: the hills
in the valley, the flat surfaces in the mountains, the low-stands
of glaciation to remove the back-stopping debris, etc."
he says, is related and has to do with the east-west compression
in the San Andreas system and how it follows the kinematics of a
fold and thrust belt.
a buried thrust ramp that elevated the mountains and their pediment
surface to a height that exceed their strength, hence the slides."
is the wine that most want to discuss.
believes that wine, itself, is often a misunderstood commodity.
he says it's hogwash the marketing some wineries do that position
the flavor of a wine due in part to the fruit that once stood on
just apocryphal," he said. "The fact there was an apricot tree on
the land at some time is meaningless. It doesn't affect the flavor
clearly alcoholic, but there are people who originally wanted to
classify it as a food. It was designed to enhance food and dialog."
is, of course, that spitting business.
he's always been partial to Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23, he
says something both illuminating and revealing about his profession.
been a typical geologist, drinking the cheap stuff and not knowing
any better," he said. "So when I am asked to partake in something
like barrel tasting, I mean lots of barrels and some really good
stuff, not swallowing seems almost sacrilegious, but it must be
of spitting is very complicated. You don't want to drool and you
don't want to stain your pants.
"At a wine
tasting, I thought I was tasting and spitting. I looked down and
saw three of my cups were barely half full; the guy next to me ...
all his cups were topped, so yes, though I thought I had made some
great discovery, I probably wasn't thinking all that clearly."