Volcanic wine, or wine grown in soil within range of an active or previously active volcano, is some of the most mineral-laden and often interesting wine out there. It also tends to be nice and refreshing (perfect for summer) whether red or white. The biddies discuss volcanic wine in general before revisiting the Pacific Northwest of the US and discussing the volcanic wine AVAs located there.



Study Notes:

*Please note some of these lines might be directly taken from sources noted above.

  • Volcanic soil accounts for only around one percent of the world’s surface but grapes seem to occupy a disproportionate share
    • Soil made from extrusive igneous rocks – lava and the fragmented materials that regularly get ejected from volcanoes called tephra
    • Sometimes consider volcanic ash soil too
  • Hundreds of different types of soil that can be called “volcanic”
    • Author says almost as descriptive as saying the word “cheese”
  • No singular type of volcanic wines (many styles and colors) but there are some unique factors that are common between volcanic wines


  • Hinge on a common mouthwatering quality from either high acidity, saltiness, or noth
    • Mineral salts caused by potassium, magnesium, and calcium plus and acid derived molecular partners like chloride, sulfates and carbonate
    • Mineral salts also explain the vague but pleasantly bitter taste found in some wines
  • Savory Character: often dominated by non-fruity flavors in the earthy and herbal spectrums
    • Minerality


  • These characteristics have their roots at least partly in the soil and although they are varied just like the wine, they do have some characteristics
    • Young Volcanic Soils (formed on lavas) are often more rock than soil
      • Since low water availability is one of the most important growing factors to produce quality grapes, this is an advantage
      • Tend to drain like sieves
    • Volcanic soils are almost always on hillsides where gravity help ensues that water is limited
    • Volcanic soils are relatively infertile and don’t always allow for root systems so the soil is not built up by other organic matter that could store water and harbor nutrients
  • Semi-parched, semi-starved vines produce less fruit, smaller bunches, thicker grape skins (aromas and flavors) and result in more deeply coloured, concentrated, structured and age-worthy wines with a broader range of flavors
    • Older Volcanic Soils (lots of clay) have the property of water retention and when matched with a dry growing season (ie the Willamette Valley) will keep vines moist, unstressed and able to focus on even, steady, ripening
      • Water absorbent pumice (like in Santorini) has a similar effect
  • Can help preserve vines and protects against some pests like phylloxera


Pacific Northwest:

  • Lies along the Pacific Rim Volcanic Arc part of the larger Ring of Fire
    • Also runs from Southern Chile around to New Zealand
    • ¾ of world’s active & dormant volcanoes and 9/10 of the planet’s earthquakes occur here
  • Basaltic lava flows poured periodically for ten million years through river valleys and across plains creating one large Igneous Province
    • This accumulated lava was enough to cause a giant bowl-shaped depression in the earth’s crust
    • When this lava flow stopped flowing the more reduction in that area of the Pacific plate caused the Cascade Mountains to grow even higher creating the Cascade Volcanic Arc
    • Washington and Oregon are the most active part – includes Mt Rainier, Mt St Helens and Mt Adams in Washington; Mt Hood, Mt Jefferson, adnt Three Sisters in Oregon
    • Ice age floods created large ice-damned lakes that covered the lower elevations of in stratified deposits leaving only the higher regions exposed so only those aforementioned hillside sites can rightly be called volcanic
    • May 18, 1980 one of Mt St Helens deadliest eruptions killing 57 people and toppling a whole lot of infrastructure
  • WASHINGTON – almost all of Washington’s wine regions lie on the eastern side of two parallel mountain ranges (the Olympic Mountains and the volcanic arc known as the Cascade Mountains)
    • Rocky, hillside, basalt soils allow for easy drainage and rocks offer more and faster complete ripening due to the solar radiation that surface rocks absorb and radiate back to grapes


  • Red Mountain AVA
    • One of Washington’s smallest AVAs, with very warm temperatures
    • Red Mountain’s soil is made up of sandy loam and gravel with a high alkalinity (high pH) and a rich calcium carbonate content. A lack of soil nutrients along with the high pH reduces the vigor of the vines, resulting in significantly smaller berry sizes compared to varietal norms. This, along with prevailing winds, leads to higher tannin levels in many of the wines compared to other regions. 
    • More than 15 wineries are located in the Red Mountain AVA. However, a very large number of wineries located in other areas source fruit from Red Mountain vineyards.
  • Yakima Valley AVA
    • Yakima Valley is one of Washington’s most diverse growing regions. It also is the largest sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley, both in total size and planted acreage, with the valley home to over one quarter of Washington’s total grape vine acreage. 
    • Designated in 1983, Yakima Valley was the first federally recognized wine-growing region in the Pacific Northwest. The valley has an arid, continental climate, with annual average precipitation at just 8 inches (20 cm). Irrigation is therefore required to cultivate vinifera grapes
    • Chardonnay, Riesling, Cab, Merlot and Syrah
  • Naches Heights AVA
  • Walla Walla AVA
    • Grape growing began in the Walla Walla Valley in the 1850s by Italian immigrants.
    • Over 100 wineries and more than 220,799 acres in Washington, 1,707 under vine. This is a cross border AVA, and 98,628 acres are in Oregon.
    • Cabernet Sauvignon is the leading varietal while Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec are other predominant varieties. 
  • Columbia Gorge AVA
    • `The Columbia Gorge was designated as an official AVA in 2004. Encompassing land on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the Columbia River, the AVA’s climate varies in a three-dimensional way. Proximity to the Columbia River has an effect on the climate. How high a vineyard is located will have a major impact on the grapes.
  • OREGON – home to the most uniformly volcanic appellation in the Americas – The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA
    • On the east side of the Cascade range past Mt Hood, rainfall is negligible and lies in a remarkably effective rain shadow, a semi-desert
    • In Willamette the rain is sufficient to have resulted in one of the valley’s most influential features of terroir: weathered Columbia River basalt


  • Willamette Valley AVA
    • Established 1983: A large AVA of 3,438,000 acres (5372 square miles), running from Portland in the north to Eugene in the south, it includes rich alluvial soils on the valley floor, that are great for agriculture but inappropriate for high quality grapegrowing, and a selection of volcanic, loess and sedimentary soils on hillsides of varying mesoclimates
  • Dundee Hills AVA
    • Established 2005: The first grapes in the Willamette Valley were planted in the Dundee Hills, and it remains the most densely planted locale in the valley and state.
  • Eola-Amity Hill AVA
  • Columbia Gorge AVA
    • The Columbia Gorge was designated as an official AVA in 2004. Encompassing land on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the Columbia River, the AVA’s climate varies in a three-dimensional way. Proximity to the Columbia River has an effect on the climate. How high a vineyard is located will have a major impact on the grapes.
  • The Rocks District of Milton Freewater AVA

Oregon: mostly pinot noir, pinot gris and asatian varietals.

Washington: grows a bit of everything with Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Merlot being leading varietals