A Plea For Terroir

VineyardsAppellation America is turning into a very interesting website, as evidenced by Alan Goldfarb’s most recent article there, "Terroir in America".

Alan essentially makes an argument, nay, plea, for the need to have winemakers focus more on crafting wines that demonstrate a sense of place rather than a sense of heft. The assumption here is that wine made from super-ripe grapes and smacked down with layers of oak essentially cover up the most important and interesting aspect of wine: the place it tastes like.

I agree with Alan on the effects of overripe, over alcoholic wine. I think we differ however on how, or where, winemakers can achieve "wines of terroir". You really should read this article and try to decide for yourself.

For wine enthusiasts the idea of terroir is the most interesting and inspiring thing about wine. Nothing else comes close. Nothing else inspires more interesting and provocative discussions that are often characterized by passion, nationalism and curiosity.

I‘ve come to the conclusion that in most every case California’s American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) or "Appellations" are really worthless as markers of terroir, let alone characteristics one can expect to find in wines labeled "Russian River Valley", "Santa Lucia Highlands", "Carneros", "Temecula" or "Santa Rita Hills," just to name a few.

In my mind, small vineyards are the place we need to be looking for real terroir. But I’m curious what all you think.

Posted In: Terroir


4 Responses

  1. wineguy - December 8, 2005

    Definitely…small wineries with winemakers who work with the same small vineyards year after year produce wine reflecting terroir. The AVA might be a guide, though…. I have some Sea Smoke. When Foxen releases their Sea Smoke (next March or April I hear) I will be interested in comparing the two in a blind taste. Same vineyard, two different winemakers. Might be interesting.

  2. Jerry - December 8, 2005

    Agree. I don’t want to get carried away paying ridiculous prices for “terroir” (as a marketing strategy), but my choices/reviews often reflect a preference for “agrarian” wines, and I tend to prefer wines which are, on balance, more “farmed” than “produced”. Of course, the best are both.

  3. CaVeManBill - December 9, 2005

    Dammit Tom, Interesting article. I was really hoping that my blogging was over for the week, but I can’t resist this one.
    The concept of terroir is inconvenient for most warm weather winemakers as their actions (interventions) in the chais are in fact to negate the effects of one of the primary elements of terroir…climate. I met Pinguet from Huet in Vouvray this week and he believes that the job of the winemaker is to facilitate the expression of that precarious mix of sun and soil in it’s eventual manifestation.. his wine. The vinification is an afterthought (no malo,indigenous yeats, no chaptalization, no new wood, etc…).
    Climate is one of the most important elements in any discussion about terroir and interventions like acidification, tannification, aromatic yeasts(and chaptalization) are necessary because the climate of many of these places (including california) produce overipe and unbalanced grapes. To a certain extent, the terroir is hostile. The winemaker must therefore work to negate the effects of their terroir. The winemaker in this scenario is much more important to the final product than the Pinguet scenario. It is the difference between the facilitator and the technician.
    It is obvious a lot easier for the french and other euro wine regions to believe in terroir as their climate lends itself to more balanced juice to begin with (though chapatilization is still rampant…and that is another story).
    Sory this was a bit long, If I can’t find some time today maybe I’ll post on the subject. Thanks for keeping the discussion alive.

  4. tom merle - December 11, 2005

    The vintner’s art far outweighs the impact of place. Think John Alban (or fill in the blank) vs. the other winemakers who source grapes from the same area.
    By the way, doesn’t the good old English work ~territory~ mean the same thing as terroir without all the mysticism…?
    Another tom

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