Depressing (and Repressing) Terroir

Appellation America
, that intrepid organization that is attempting to identify unique regional signatures that can be identified in wines, has posted its commentary based on a comprehensive tasting or Carneros Pinot Noirs that was conducted at Bouchaine Winery a few weeks ago. As I suspected, the analysis is a bit disturbing:

time, wine makers in Carneros began to sense that they had to work
diligently to get higher scores through elimination of the distinctive
terroir components that had marked their wines of the past."

Dan Berger, who along with Alan Goldfarb, headed up the tasting, begins his analysis of what was discovered at this tasting with the above sentence. For those of you who believe distinctive regional character is important to your wine drinking experiences you can’t be too happy with this conclusion.

The entire article is a fascinating rumination on the state of Carneros Pinot Noir, the factors that influence regional character in this vast region, and the prospects for the future of using the idea of "terroir" as a guiding principle in evaluating wine altogether.

I was at this tasting. Berger’s somewhat pessimistic conclusions match my own.

I have my own ideas on what terroir means (N + Hx(10) = T).. I believe when we speak of terroir we need to speak as much to a "culture of winemaker techniques" as we do to what nature gives us to work with. This can be a depressing notion for the die hard terroirista. However, it can also be a fascinating lens through which one comes to view and understand the art of winemaking.

Posted In: Terroir


6 Responses

  1. caveman - February 16, 2006

    Higher scores from whom? Am I reading this right Tom? You are correct,it makes me kinda sad.

  2. tom - February 16, 2006

    Higher Scores from the reviewers you would suspect.

  3. Fredric Koeppel - February 16, 2006

    The participants in that photograph certainly don’t look very happy.
    Appellation America has to be admired for taking on a difficult and probably thankless task, especially since they’re barking up the wrong vine. In France, for example (if it’s OK to bring up that country), no one would consider investigating the terroir of a whole region; no one of sound mind would assert such a thing. In Burgundy, the notion of terroir scarcely applies even to villages, it’s in the VINEYARD, “Les Amoureuses” as opposed to all of Chambolle-Musigny, as small as that may be. Trying to come up with terroir-like characteristics for Carneros is as futile as nailing down all of Russian River Valley or Mendoza. And as you have cogently theorized, Tom, for New World vineyard farming and winemaking, all bets are off; there are too many variables.

  4. Bradley - February 16, 2006

    Yes, cultural practices (in the barn and out in the field) will turn terroir upside down everytime. Take a block of Blankety grapes, have it raised by three different farmers and give it to three different winemakers and I doubt you’ll have any regional definition left. Unless they all had the same Daddy!

  5. St.Vini - February 16, 2006

    Based on your definition of terroir (a combination of regional style and nature’s inputs), this – “Over time, wine makers in Carneros began to sense that they had to work diligently to get higher scores through elimination of the distinctive terroir components that had marked their wines of the past.” – doesn’t bother me. It just means that the style portion of the equation is shifting – nature’s inputs are going to stay rather static – no big deal.
    Furthermore, if you look at Spectator Pinot scores of Carneros vs. Santa Rita Hills, Santa Maria, and Russian River (and I have), Carneros lags behind the others.
    Whether score chasing is right or not is another topic….

  6. tom - February 16, 2006

    That’s exactly right. However, I’d further argue as, Fred did above, that it doesn’t make much sense to look for an overarching characteristic to wines coming from such a large area as this and most other appellations.
    But I’d also add that even at the vineyard level, the input of the winemaker, and vineyardist, seems likely to be the source for far more of the wine’s characer than nature.

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