You Are What You Terroir
Ken Garret has an interesting article in the Australian paper The Courier-Mail in which Terroir is the topic. Early on, Garret goes on about the various ways terroir is defined and it struck me in reading that one can tell a lot about the person by understanding how they define "Terroir".
Consider the following definitions of Terroir…and what they tell us about the Definer
1. Real Terroir Only Exists in France
Meaning: They own a French Vineyard or only drink French wine
2. Terroir is all about the soils and little else
Meaning: They have a piece of land they want to claim has the "best terroir"
3. Terroir includes all the natural influences on a vineyard including climate, soils and aspect.
Meaning: They own a vineyard or winery in the "New World" and want the entire world to know that great terroir can be found anywhere…especially in the New World.
4. "Terroir" means the entire "spirit" of the place where the grapes are grown
Meaning: "The history and culture of my region is more interesting than yours."
5. Terroir encompass not just "Mother Nature" but the impact of the grower and winemaker too.
Meaning: I’m not sure "terroir" even exists to the extent that it matters
6. Terroir is that "taste of place" one finds in unique wines
Meaning: That’s not a flaw you taste in my wine, it’s the "gout de terroir"
What’s the point?
In most cases the point is that "terroir" is much more than a concept. It is a marketing tool for wineries and regions, it is a tool of the chauvinist, it is a tool of the publicist, and it is the excuse some use to explain away poor winemaking or vineyard management.
In the end, I think "terroir" only matters if you can taste it over and over, vintage after vintage; if you can use it to explain why wine from one vineyard or small region ALWAYS has a particular character. If terroir can’t explain this, then I’m not sure it matters at all…regardless of the definition you give it.
This is a good example of why nobody can agree on the definition of the word, its not used consistently.
My main issue with the use of the word (in nearly every case) is that there is often a better word that could be used in its place. Typically, “terroir” is thrown out when the speaker/writer finds themself unable to communicate a certain quality with any precision….
Your point is well made. Marketing hype aside, though, you have to admit that there are regional differences to wine, whatever you want to call it.
Being nearly lifelong Washington residents our taste for wine has been firmly rooted in Yakima, Columbia and Willamette valleys. Our pinot noirs are bold, smack you across the face reds. Recently, my husband and I had the pleasure of touring the Waipara winemaking region of New Zealand’s south island. What a difference! The pinot noirs found there are thin, delicate reds. It was a tastebud opening experience.
Tom, you’re 100% on the bullseye with this post.
I thought Outdoorgrrl made an interesting point about region in her post. I think one’s palate does become regionalized after prolonged exposure to local wines.
But terroir is something too vague to define in concrete terms – an ideal marketing concept.