Lee Pitts: Here’s mud in your eye
March 17, 2015
Wine tastings are so over. The trendy thing now in California and Europe are dirt tastings in which folks with seemingly too much money and not enough to do, swirl a muddy concoction of dirt in a glass, hold it up to the light, stick their snoot in a soil slurry full of humus and then make sophisticated statements such as, "It's a bit dusty but I taste an echo of loam with just the right notes of compost. And was that a hint of clay on the mid-palate?" Or, "I simply love the creamy and complex texture, with a surprising vegetative nose and a barnyard finish that is simply divine."
And you thought eating snails and bugs was bad!
I've tasted my share of dirt in my life and, quite frankly, I don't see the attraction. I'd eat eggs or Lima beans before I'd eat soil on purpose. At the age of five I ate dirt on a dare and it left a bad taste in my mouth to this day. And any rancher who has worked his share of cattle through a squeeze chute with his mouth open has also tasted a bovine vintage, so to speak.
I am told that people in Georgia have been known to eat powdered clay called kaolin for its antidiarrheal properties and for a long time Kaopectate® was made from this dirt. My mother used to feed me Kaopectate® when I ate too many cherries and I'd have to say I'd rather have the worst case of the trotskys on earth than to ever taste that chalky remedy ever again.
I think this whole dirt tasting fad was started in places where they couldn't grow grapes but wanted to get in on the fun the wine snobs were having. I hate to rain on their parade but one vital ingredient to this merriment is missing in most dirt and that's alcohol. But as a farmer I could see the advantages of raising dirt versus growing grapes. There's no planting, just harvesting. Start up the backhoe or skip loader, scoop up a bucket full of your 2015 vintage and that's pretty much all there is to it. I'd say that at $30 a bottle that's a fairly good return that compares favorably with Two Buck Chuck and boxed wines.
The idea behind dirt tastings is for insufferable snobs to make the connection between the food they eat and the dirt it was grown or raised in. Believe me, I sure made the connection when my mother forgot to wash the tubers sufficiently. Or when we ate boysenberry cobbler made with berries that were grown over our septic tank. I am told that such an area is known as a "terrior," which I think is French for "mental illness." I don't want to spoil the dirt snobs' party but I'd be real hesitant if I were you to eat anything grown in the soil around the cow towns of Dalhart, Greeley or Coalinga, if you know what I mean.
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I can see it all now. At all the hoity-toity restaurants rich guys will order an appetizer of "Your best South Dakota loamy clay." Or a "vertical" of Gallo's best sods. Dirty journalists will write bestsellers with titles like "The Best Soils of the San Joaquin." Instead of wine tours people will go on dirt tours in big long limousines with hot tubs in them, and FFA kids who were on the soils judging team in high school will become dirt sommeliers or tasting room associates. Instead of wine cellars, rich folks will build dirt cellars. Believe me, I've had relatives who lived in dirt cellars and I'm not going back.
If I have piqued your interest in dirt tasting I am told that you should mix the dirt with a little water, decant and pour in the typical manner, being careful to let the soil breathe. Or at least let the microbes in the soil breathe. Now swirl the muddy concoction clockwise, NEVER counter clockwise, lower it under your nose and note the vibrant aroma of a cow on carrots. Close your eyes, take a sip in quiet contemplation and note the textures of fertilizer, fungicides, mold and sludge, being careful not to break a tooth on the complex and rocky structure. Finally, SPIT IT OUT! You're eating dirt for gosh sakes!