Isn’t “Terroir” Just Another Word For “Tradition”

Shouldn’t a region’s traditional winemaking and grapegrowing techniques also be rolled into the definition of "Terroir"? Or perhaps better put, shouldn’t the traditional wine style that is associated with a region be seen as part of the terroir.

I realize this is a factor not usually part of terroir’s definition, but given the challenges underway to traditional wine styles, particularly the French types, you have to give it some thought.

Currently there seems to be a battle underway between the "traditionalist" or "Reactionaries" as Robert Parker refers to them, and the "vanguard." Observing the wines of the vanguard in Bordeaux, those winemakers who have followed the calls of Michel Rolland and Parker to produce far more intense, extracted wines, the traditionalists claim "These may be fine wines, but they are not Bordeaux."

The traditionalists are right. These new wines that seem closer to Napa Valley Cab than historic Bordeaux are not what Bordelais winemakers have traditionally made.

But wait. Suppose for a moment that traditional Bordeaux had, over the decades and centuries, evolved into a wine that WAS made in a highly extracted and intense style. Suppose all the efforts in the vineyard that are now helping to produce these big wines had been developed and perfected earlier…say 150 years ago.

Now suppose a new "vanguard" comes along today and starts making more austere, more elegant wines that need age to flourish. Couldn’t these new wines be singled out as "nothing like "Bordeaux"?

The answer is yes. This turns the idea of "terroir" around and pits it against the notion of "style-driven" definitions of wine. This idea also subtly points to the reality that a person’s esthetic view of wine is really a value judgment. That is to say, isn’t a desire to see wines be "terroir-driven" just an esthetic philosophy? Couldn’t a wine lover, with just as much care and enthusiasm for wine, take the position that style-driven wines are on an equal plane with terroir-driven wines?

Posted In: Terroir


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