Terroir

When you meet a vintner or a salesperson these days they will immediately start to effuse about their “terroir.” If you have yet to figure this out, the French came to the conclusion around 1800 that the best wines were made in very particular vineyards for reasons they did not quite understand. They therefore awarded various vineyards classifications like “grand cru classe”. Anyone who has been drinking for more than a decade will be aware that any number of designated “great” vineyards are capable of decades of mistakes, sloth and crappy wine. Yet the story of terroir lives on.

The story becomes even sillier when you consider what are the non-human inputs to wine. They are the the soil, the weather, vine clones, the grapes, and the yeast. In many AOC areas both the clones and the yeast (usually wild, having evolved with the vinyards over the centuries) are specified.

So far so good. Anyone who has spent time around farmers will have heard about the storied quarter section down the road that produces #1 grain when everyone else is lucky to pull animal feed off. There are micro-climates, and particularly well drained or watered pieces of land full of the nutrients for specific crops. However…

Before you swallow the fine fairy tale spun by the salesperson in front of you, remember to ask a few questions. In particular ask:

– Do you notice a particular mineral profile in your wine?
– if so do you irrigate? And what is the water source?
– Do you innoculate the yeast?
– if so how often do adjust the yeast strains? Do you EVER only use one strain on one block of land?
– How often do you change clones?
– Is this the same clone grown in 1970? 1990?

The attentive reader will know why I’m a cynic. If you irrigate, your mineral profile is from the river or the well from which you pump. If you innoculate you can change the flavour profile of your wine from year to year. And when you change clones you are effectively changing your terroior.

The number of vineyards I come across that can make the terroir claim with a straight face are less than 10 per cent and probably less than 1 per cent. Call me about your terroir when you can answer the above questions without turning red.

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