Hang around in New South Wales vineyards and chances are you’ll encounter Liz Riley.
It doesn’t take long for the viticulturist to show you her soil pit; her happy place in a patchwork of vines and cover crops.
When I first bumped into Liz at Hunter Valley’s Scarborough Wines, she was keen to show me a large hole carved into the property.
Talk quickly turned dirty.
“Here in the Hunter, the horizon or top layer is a red brown earth; a clay loam which is lovely and friable but has good water holding capacity,” she says.
“Below this is a heavier red clay, then a grey shale layer before you hit a solid layer of limestone.
“The rootzone is (by and large) the top 30 to 40 centimetres, with the lower layers being where there are storage roots and the soil acts a reservoir.”
A few months later, our paths crossed again.
Liz was neck-deep in another hole, this time at Tumbarumba’s Wondalma Vineyard, regaling a bunch of sommeliers and journalists with soil talk.
“Tumbarumba has a silty loam with clay components,” she said.
“There’s a milk chocolate layer with a caramel chocolate layer below it. It has a really high water holding capacity but is very free draining at the same time.”
Her enthusiasm was infectious.
It always is.
“I love looking below the surface and seeing that often unseen part of the vines and the ecosystem,” she says.
“You’ve got to know what you’re working with to make good management decisions and we don’t look at what is under our feet enough.”
• See the full interview in the September-October issue of WBM – Australia’s Wine Business Magazine. Subscribe here.
Photos: Chris Elfes.