Defining Terroir and Appellations
Something very interesting is happening over at AppellationAmerica.com (AA).
For quite some time this website sat there, taking up bandwidth, offering little more than potential. Clearly its owners had built it to be something substantial. The guts were there, but nothing much filled them. It had always been a site that, when filled, was planned to offer in-depth information on America’s appellations and appellation system. Yet little was offered in the way of information.
But something has changed.
Very recently AA has begun to sign up some very good wine minds and scribes to fill in the blanks.
Dan Berger, Thom Elkjer and Alan Goldfarb have all signed on to be regional correspondents. Goldfarb has even quit his day job at the St. Helena Star where he covered the Napa Valley as the Wine Editor with inquisitive and insightful commentary.Clearly AA has gotten some funding. But there’s more.
There seems to be a real mission here.
Take for example AA’s "Appellation Discovery Program":
The Appellation Discovery Program seeks to identify threads of commonality and to pinpoint a terroir based signature in the wines of this appellation, if such commonality exists, or is developing. The Discovery Process is centered on structured tastings designed to distill the specific wine characteristics associated with the terroir and cultural traditions of the region. Wines that are determined by the Discovery Panel to best express the characteristics of the appellation earn AppellationAmerica’s “Appellation Signature” distinction."
This is a tall order. So tall that it has never been attempted, amazingly, in any organized fashion. The first "Discovery Panel" was overseen by Dan Berger and centered on a pretty easy target: Russian River Valley’s Green Valley appellation, one of the smaller and best defined appellations in California. If any appellation was going to be more easily understood and the characteristics of its wines defined it would be Green Valley.
Terroir and it’s mapping via well defined appellations is the most important and most interesting intellectual pursuit in wine today. And there is no entity that is charged with looking at the overall picture. If you ask five people what Carneros Pinot Noir tastes like you’ll likely get five different answers and 10 reason why they differ.
In the end the question must be asked: Is it possible to have well founded expectations about the character of a wine based on the appellation written on the bottle? Or, is the impact of winemaking techniques, growing techniques and clonal selection on the character of a wine simply far more impactful than the shinethrough of the terroir in a region?
This is what Appellation America, with its growing stable of wine minds hopes to answer.