For the last twenty years, Tom Rice has led a double life. As an energetic yet mild-mannered professor of soil science at California Polytechnic Institute in San Luis Obispo, California, Dr. Rice has supervised over 50 detailed senior projects and Masters theses which detail the soils and environment of the San Luis Obispo environs, including soil maps of well known vineyards in both the eastern and western regions of the Paso Robles AVA. The soil science program at Cal Poly, which Dr. Rice helped develop, consistently attracts the largest soil science undergraduate enrollment in the United States.
In his other life, Dr. Rice works as a private consultant and adventurer, braving cultural unrest to speak in Xi’an, the People’s Republic of China on watershed management; clambering through hot, rattlesnake hills to study the viability of planting vineyards over the oil fields of Texas, escorting scientists through the Mojave Desert, and researching the insidious incursion of mercury contamination in the Lake Nacimiento basin of coastal California. In September 1998, Dr. Rice presented a talk at the University of Florence, Italy, on “Vineyards on Limestone Soils in California and France.”
The book begins . . . “It was not a terribly auspicious beginning for a world class wine country. For brevity’s sake, we’ll only go back 20 million years. The Tertiary Period was when most of our landmass was forming. There followed a number of epochs; the Pliocene era (2 to 5 million years ago) was the California Coastal Ranges mountain-building era. The San Andreas Fault was fracturing during the Miocene era (5 to 24 million years ago) and it has been a real inconvenience ever since.”
An introduction describes the terroir as seen through the eyes of early ranching, farming and winegrowing families. Chapter one addresses environmental contrasts between the east side and west side, and general issues of water quality, wildlife habitat and native plants.
The remaining chapters are organized by region: Templeton Gap, Adelaida Hills, Salinas River Valley Terraces West, Estrella River Terraces, Salinas River Terraces Southeast, and the Creston/Shandon Area. Terraces West would include the San Marcos drainage area, and the Dusi Ranch vineyards. The Southeast Terraces are possibly two separate regions—Santa Margarita and Huerhuero River Terraces.
Dr. Rice adds, "Although there are not many wineries in that region, there are big vineyards, with lots of geologic and soil variation. This region encompasses vineyards as diverse as Wild Horse, Maloy O’Neill, and Chateau Margene. We once had redwood forests here, and huge flood plains which were uplifted into river terraces. There’s been a lot of undercutting as layers were forced underneath the plains, so in the high plateaus and orchards of the El Pomar region, the eroded tops of the highest points may be all calcareous shale, with underlying alluvium and a veneer of Paso Robles formation . . . sand, gravel, and clay."