Faith and Dirt

The issue and idea of faith has always confounded me.

I envy those people who walk with faith like it's a natural appendage that is so fully a part of them they don't even notice it. I notice it though. It's really a beautiful thing. I possess only enough faith to radically notice it at every turn and to question it constantly, and thereby diminishing even more the small bit that I have. 

I write all this in advance of quoting this comment made on an earlier post:

"if what is in the soil is not as
important as your lifestyle, your house or your working the market, you
are just going to make a different kind of wine…it seeps into the gestalt.

To be clear, "different kind of wine" means inferior to the wine you would make if soil is as important to you as everything else.

But back to the comment. It's a faith statement. That's of course what makes it more beautiful than a factual statement such as "very few people can taste a wine and identify the terroir and even fewer care to."

This fact is not very pretty, particularly to those of us who want to believe that a piece of ground and type of climate provide a distinctive profile in a wine that instills it with authenticity and makes it matter because the wine would then represent a melding of the human spirit and the natural world.

This idea of the melding of the human spirit with the natural world is important for serious wine drinker and winemakers for the same reasons that Christianity has been so important to the west and why paganism was so important to those the Roman conquered: The ambition to live a meaningful life can't be sustained for the lifetime of an individual and a people can't create a foundation to build upon confidently for their own ends without access to and connection with an idea that offers objective warrant for their deeds. Grounding our tastes in otherworldly notions of good and bad, right and wrong, authentic and unnatural is necessary to sustain a person and a people that seek meaning in their lives.

The idea of terroir, like the idea of the Holy Ghost or the Trinity, is a pretty sketchy idea that requires belief to make it work. This is not to say that flavor, aromas and texture of a wholly unique kind can't be coaxed into a wine from the elemental properties of a particular piece of turf and even identified with a degree of certainty by a well trained drinker. I suppose it can sometimes happen and I suppose there must be as little interference between the elements and the wine as possible…just the human spirit would be best.

In the end, I think we MUST believe in terroir. If we don't, at least those of us who find in wine a life defining paradigm, we abandon the objective warrant we've latched on to for our devotion to the product; make it a commodity of colored sauce and nothing more. We abandon the drink's meaning and with it an explanation for our taste.


5 Responses

  1. Gretchen - November 11, 2008

    Location, location, location!
    Terroir is not a matter of faith but a sense of space. Like in real estate, place matters.
    Winemakers who value their unique location are not engaging in a religious act but instead celebrating their understanding of their patch of earth and their ability to work in harmony with it.

  2. el jefe - November 11, 2008

    You’ve said what I try to say but often fail miserably.
    We do believe in our special dirt and air and water out here in a place that, if you have heard of it at all, you probably equate with frogs.
    We don’t realistically expect that anyone will speak of a Calaveras terroir within our lifetimes, but someone has to start it…

  3. Dylan - November 11, 2008

    Stated perfectly, el jefe. Just because it’s not the popular way of thought doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing. Hearing, “Why would having the taste of terroir in your wine matter?”, to me, is the equivalent of asking the Wright Brothers, “Why does aviation matter?” The answer will always remain: because it matters to us, and as long as we try, we know, one day, it may matter to you.

  4. Richard Shaffer - November 12, 2008

    Wine allows people to travel the globe, literally tasting the land of places far, far away.
    It’s good for people to get outside of themselves. Wine is expansive that way, I think, connecting people across countries and cultures and experiences.
    I don’t care whether “terroir” is “real” or not.
    It’s so obviously TRUE at such a high level.

  5. wino - November 13, 2008

    Let’s face it,most wine doesn’t have a unique terroir fingerprint. But if you’ve ever tasted a Cabernet from South Africa -I mean you would know right away it’s not from California, or Austrailia. And a Syrah from South Africa tastes a lot different then a California Syrah. Is it just the winemakers style? or the climate? We have micro climates similar to where Aussie grapes are grown. And remember the Rieslings from the Mosel and the ‘one of a ‘kind’ loose slate soils they are grown in- is that what makes them so unique or is it just the climate or wine making that makes them special? I have talked with some wine makers who mention the differences in their seperate vineyards as if they were their children, with unique personalities all their own. Maybe like all objects of faith, we believe because it’s a way of explaining certain forces that we perceive. But all the anecdotal evidence is difficult to ignore.

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