2022 Carolina Geological Society Meeting and Field Trip – Updated August 9, 2022

Friday’s Member meeting will be held at the Blue Ridge Conference Hall (49 East Campus Drive Flat Rock, NC 28731), which is also where we will be meeting the buses Saturday and Sunday mornings. On Friday, registration opens at 5:00 PM.

Introduction

Viticulture, the art and science of wine-grape cultivation, is one of the fastest growing agricultural ventures in North Carolina, accounting for one of the state’s most important fruit crops and one of its riskiest.  The state now has 191 vineyard/wineries (ranking number 10 in the US) and an estimated 400 vineyards selling grapes to wineries and for table consumption.  The industry employs over 24,000 people directly or indirectly, produces approximately 2.4 million gallons of wine annually (ranking 8th in the nation) and generates an economic impact of around $4.7 billion.  In the 2021 CGS field excursion we will explore how geology and geomorphology play a critical role in determining the natural environment, or ‘terroir’, of three quite different, but adjacent, physiographic settings in western North Carolina in which wine-grapes are being cultivated.  The excursion will follow a transect from the inner Piedmont in Polk County, across the Blue Ridge escarpment in Polk and Henderson Counties, into the Blue Ridge plateau in Henderson and Buncombe Counties, all of which have active vineyard/winery operations that are producing excellent wines.

We will visit five operating vineyard/wineries along the excursion transect, and will offer an optional sixth vineyard at the end of the regularly scheduled trip:

Parker-Binns Vineyards, Polk County, Inner Piedmont

Marked Tree Vineyards, Henderson County, Blue Ridge escarpment

St. Paul Mountain Vineyards and Appalachian Ridge Cidery, Henderson County, Blue Ridge plateau

Stone Ashe Vineyards, Henderson County, Blue Ridge plateau

Biltmore Estate Winery/Vineyard, Buncombe County, Blue Ridge plateau

Burntshirt Vineyard, (Optional high-altitude vineyard at 3600’), Blue Ridge escarpment

At each vineyard stop the operators or winemakers will present short introductions to their operations and discuss the grapes they cultivate, the wines they produce, technologies utilized, and the strengths and weaknesses of their geographic locations.  This will be followed by a discussion of how the local geology and geomorphology play a role in the vineyards’ terroir, including such issues as bedrock, soils, slope, aspect, solar exposure, climate and weather, length of growing season, and other macro-, meso- and microclimate influences.  Importantly, participants will have the opportunity to sample each wineries’ products.

Field Trip Leaders and Topics to be Discussed

The excursion will be led by Joseph (“Joe”) Forrest, a retired petroleum exploration geologist and GIS/Remote Sensing Consultant who lives in the Boston area. In recent years Joe has assisted winegrowers in North Carolina in the preparation of four American Viticultural Area petitions. He is presently working on additional areas in the southern and northern Appalachians. Co-leading the trip with Joe will be Rick Wooten, recently retired from the NC Geological Survey as head of the Landslide Mapping Program, and Bart Cattanach, who is the head of the NC Survey’s Blue Ridge Mapping Program. In addition, the following invited speakers and authors will participate:

Sarah Bowman, Viticulture Instructor, Surry Community College, Dobson, NC

John Havlin, Professor of Soil Sciences, NCSU, Raleigh, NC

Mark Hoffmann, Assistant Professor of Horticulture and Extension Specialist, NCSU, Raleigh, NC

Brad Johnson, Geomorphologist, Chair and Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Davidson College, Davidson College, Davidson, NC

Charles (“Chip”) Konrad, Professor of Climatology/Meteorology, Dept. of Geography, and Director of the Southeastern Regional Climate Center, UNC, Chapel Hill, NC

Philip Prince, Consulting Geomorphologist, Appalachian Landslide Consultants, Asheville, NC

Ian Taplin, Professor of Sociology and International Studies, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC

Topics to be discussed in detail by the excursion leaders and speakers include the following:

  • North Carolina’s long and complex viticultural history.
  • The meaning of “Terroir” and the role of geology in the concept.
  • Origin and evolution of the Blue Ridge escarpment, and its role in differentiating agriculture regions in the three field trip counties.
  • Soil types and characteristics and how geomorphic processes determine their generation. Do rocks and soils really play a role in a wine’s taste and textural characteristics, or is this marketing mythology?
  • The role played by landforms in controlling climate factors, such as temperature, precipitation, and length of growing season, and how these determine the types of grapes that can be sustainably grown.
  • Nature of the infamous “Thermal Belt” of Polk and Rutherford Counties. Is it real, and does the geomorphic setting really explain its origin?
  • Geohazards to viticulture.
  • The unique viticultural setting of the southern Blue Ridge front.