Fraud & Terroir

With the report out of Oregon late last month that the Geological Society of America poo pooed the notion that the "Minerally" taste in a wine has anything to do with the minerals in the soils that the wine's grapes were grown, we are once again reminded that the notion of "Terroir" may just be the a fraudulent, if not romantic, idea that marketers and PR types like me like to flog in front of the buying public.

But isn't it really one of the most compelling ideas you can imagine: The wine in your glass that comes from a small, ancient vineyard in Tuscany gives you a connection to that piece of soil because the wine TASTES like that soil. You visit this unique place via your taste buds.

But it just ain't true.

The announcement by the GSA got lots of coverage, including in Decanter, The NY Times and the Seattle Post Intelligencer.

But dispelling the idea that a wine's minerality comes from the minerals in the soils isn't such a big deal. Most thinking people know that's a little bit absurd, especially if they've been reading the literature over the past few years. What would be a big deal is if the idea that the difference between appellations could be tasted in the wines. The fact is, there is not specific "Russian River Valley Pinot Noir " taste. There is no specific "Alexander Valley Chardonnay" taste. This is a myth.

Whether it's an appellation association or a winery telling consumers they can taste the region in their wines, both border on fraud. I'd be willing to bet that if you lined up 10 different Pinots from ten different CA appellations, very few people in the world could correctly identify the appellation of even three of the wines.

That said, I am very attracted to the idea of promoting the special characteristics of small, single vineyard plots. Here is where I think consumers can be led down a path that connects soil and climate to taste in a very direct way. It's at this micro level when the interplay of soil composition, aspect of the land, micro climate, vine density, vine age, cover crop, irrigation routine and winemaker interaction can be explored in detail and some very good estimates can be made on how they affect the final wine.


39 Responses

  1. Gretchen Neuman - November 5, 2009

    If the minerals in the soil are unimportant to the wine, then we should drink wine from areas with high concentrations of mercury in it… it is just a mineral after all…. It won’t have any impact on the wine after all..
    I think that soil composition is an element in terroir but it is so intertwined with climate that you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Just that we are imperfect at detecting it.

  2. Derrick Schneider - November 5, 2009

    So Burgundy’s crus and the Mosel’s careful vineyard designations are the result of hucksters? I’ll keep that in mind.
    That said, the “minerality doesn’t come from minerals in the soil” is old news. I’m not sure why this is getting such coverage now. I guess when I first learned it, blogs and such weren’t quite as common, not as many papers had websites, and so forth.

  3. Derrick Schneider - November 5, 2009

    Oops, I missed the last graf.
    But, to actually take your point, you’re telling me that you can’t distinguish a Burgundy from a California Pinot? What is that if not terroir, at least in a gross sense?
    California terroir is tough because the weather gets so warm (not to mention the fact that we don’t really have the history to make terroir distinctions.) But then, what of Rice’s work to give meaningful subdivisions of the Paso Robles AVA? Not vineyard-level ones, but ones based on mesoclimates/soils. Or the different subdivisions of Lodi?

  4. TWG - November 5, 2009

    Great topic! First, terroir can’t be reduced to minerality. So research that shows that minerality isn’t the result of minerals in soil doesn’t disprove terroir. Second, you say “It’s at this micro level when the interplay of soil composition, aspect of the land, micro climate, vine density, vine age, cover crop, irrigation routine and winemaker interaction can be explored in detail and some very good estimates can be made on how they affect the final wine.”
    But soil composition and aspect of the land are plausibly considered consitutive of terroir, even if only as part of an interplay. So terroir hasn’t been completely eliminated in your own explanation. Last, I don’t think any believer in terroir (whatever it is) as a partial, explanatory device for a wine’s characteristics would be disappointed to substitute almost every item in your list of interplaying elemnets for terroir–your list would just be interpreted as an explicit analysis of the ambiguous ‘terroir’. Cheers!

  5. Strappo - November 5, 2009

    Another nice can of worms you’ve opened, Tom. To me the key points made by Gretchen and Derrick are that
    we haven’t the history behind us to detect and develop terroirish distinctions in a fine-grained way — and I think climate and locally evolved variations on grapes play a significant factor.
    It’s usually pretty easy to tell a Burgundy from a CA Pinot Noir, of course. Terroir is about traditions and choices made all through the grape-growing and vinification process, and these factors play THEIR part.
    But like a lot of the “controversies” in wine today, the argument becomes factually lite and dogmatically weighty.

  6. Randy Watson - November 5, 2009

    Following a trip in Bordeaux where terroir is a concept as sacred as Jesus and Michael Jackson (post death of course), I started thinking about how/if terroir can be tasted in the wine.
    After discussing the topic with others(, I have come to the conclusion that while you may not necessarily taste the minerality of the terroir in a wine, it still influences it to some extent albeit indirectly. Wouldn’t you agree that conditions of the land (soil, gravel, weather) cause wine to have different characteristics? Kinda like how people say that the pizza in NY tastes better than anywhere else because of the water.
    Just my two cents…

  7. Tom Wark - November 5, 2009

    Gretchen, et al
    I think where soil is concerned, the #1 issue has to be drainage. This is where the study of soil, or at least an understanding of the soil, is key and actually helps explain the wines that result. But I think its fair to say that we don’t “taste” minerals.

  8. Tom Wark - November 5, 2009

    I’d bet there is a corolation in Bordeaux and Burgundy and the mosel between the those vineyards that are considered best and the ability of their soils to drain water.
    I only bring up the mineral thing because of the recent announcement and because I hadn’t thought about terroir in a while.

  9. Thomas Pellechia - November 5, 2009

    “But like a lot of the “controversies” in wine today, the argument becomes factually lite and dogmatically weighty.”
    Strappo–I couldna said it betta!

  10. Derrick Schneider - November 5, 2009

    Agreed, definitely, about drainage. Also, macronutrient effects (surplus and deficit). Plenty of evidence to back those up.
    David Schildknecht argues that the soil environment and its effect on microorganisms should be factored in, and he brought me around to that line of thinking when he tech reviewed my big terroir article. Evidence for that is light, but only because people have just started looking at it.

  11. Jason - November 5, 2009

    Tom can you explain then why a cabernet from italy etc. tastes 100 percent different from cabernet from the US with the assumption that alcohol level is in the same ballpark. I would think it has something to do with the soil, land etc.? Thanks.
    Also I have seen some banter on this website about it but I really enjoy as a change of pace for wine reviews.

  12. Jason - November 5, 2009

    You are correct in citing the interplay between all the growing elements and the winemaker as constituting important ingredients in a wine. This is what ought to be the notion of “terroir” that we all understand. Unfortunately, this idea has been dumbed down to sell wine — thus the fraud.
    I would contend that 99% of what we consider terroir arises from the winemaking traditions of a region. It’s no magical coincidence that wines from a certain European region go with their foods — they chose it to be so! Consequently, I subscribe to the broad idea of terroir in Europe but not the US or other new world regions. The heritage simply is
    not there.

  13. Charlie Olken - November 5, 2009

    If we keep to the subject of how minerals in soil translate to minerality in wine, then the findings are 100% accurate. The findings never said that soil has no influence on wine character.
    Climate, sunlight hours, sunlight angle, length of growing season, diurnal temperature changes, trellising systems, the use or non-use of water during the growing season, morning sun versus evening sun and lots of other factors all influence how wine tastes.
    Collectively, they are why Romanee-Conti tastes different from Pommard; why Margaux tastes different from St. Estephe, why wines of the West Rutherford Bench taste different from wines grown along the Silverado Trail.
    Now as to the question of terroir, it is more than minerality to me. It is a commonality of character that is found in wines of a given area.
    Tom Wark challenges us to identify so much as three Pinot Noirs out of ten from locations in California. OK, Tom, let’s you and I and a handful of others take that challenge together and publish the results.
    The wines have to be agreed upon to be representative of their areas. No goo-balls that have had their character turned in raisins or prunes, but reasonable representatives.
    Here is my list of candidates for place: Willamette Valley (why exclude Oregon?), Anderson Valley, Westside Road (less than AVA section of RRV), western Son. Co (Fort Ross to Freestone) also part of RRV, Carneros, Santa Lucia Highlands, Chalone, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, Arroyo Grande Valley.
    Now, the question is whether this test, cnducted with knowledgable tasters, would disprove your theory that very few tasters could pick out the differences.
    But, that said, I think I could find a few folks who could meet your test. And, to me, the fact that the wines would be different would be further proof of the existence of difference related to place–which is really the point you are trying to deny.
    Picking out specific places, after all, is really a parlor trick, not a good way to measure if such differences exist. Still, bring it on.

  14. Arthur - November 5, 2009

    WHY does terroir HAVE to be the taste of dirt in the wine? That is absurd.
    Mystical notions aside, terroir the interplay of climate, soil chemistry, farming and harvesting decisions resulting in a unique organoleptic profile of a finished wine. That does not have to include minerality (for which we may very well have receptors) or dirt or soil or whatever else.

  15. Arthur - November 5, 2009

    “commonality of character” – nice wording.

  16. The Wine Mule - November 5, 2009

    Time to brush up on your French:
    The gist of it is, “Microbes make metals and salts soluable so they can be absorbed by the vine’s roots.” I think Claude Bourguignon is positing, (emphasis on “I think”) that minerals, through an intermediary, might have some impact on a wine’s character.
    And anyway, to me “terroir” represents anything and everything in a wine (save the instigation of fermentation) that is not influenced by the hand of man. And I’m not even sure about that: The hand of man is also part of “terroir,” isn’t it? At least in the sense of traditional practices particular to an appellation. (The tradition of blowing a bit of the check you got on your company’s IPO to start a winery, even though it is authentically indigenous to the Napa Valley, does not count, I think, as “traditional practices.” Maybe someday it will.

  17. martin - November 6, 2009

    You are correct in citing the interplay between all the growing elements and the winemaker as constituting important ingredients in a wine. i am also a great fan of some russian wine.i always like to sit alone with my wine and my favorite cigar in my i am very selective in buying my cigaronline

  18. Morton Leslie - November 6, 2009

    Six decades ago Amerine with the help of some expert tasters showed that in carefully conducted blind tasting California growing regions could be identified with a regularity that was statistically significant. He also demonstrated that terroir was influenced by soil and climate, but did not result from tastes picked up directly from the soil. This is very, very old news.
    Terroir, by definition, does not include the winemaker. It is the taste of place…period. The main reason terroir is hard to see today is because the winemaker lets the grapes shrivel on the vine allowing it to lose its geographical identity and taste like it came from nowhere.

  19. Thomas Pellechia - November 6, 2009

    Did you ever wonder why there was no French and Italian translation for the English word “winemaker?”

  20. Joe Gargiulo - November 6, 2009

    The concept of terroir is an unproven theory, but I agree with the points made by Derrick, Charles and Arthur in its favor.
    My client Vineyard & Winery Management magazine produces the Grand Harvest Awards, a wine comp based on the concept of terroir. I refine my definition of terroir each year as I write related press releases, and this is where it stands today: “terroir is considered to be the combined expression of climate, soil and topography in the aroma, flavor, structure and sensorial components of wine”. The operative word here is “expression” — i.e. terroir is the expression of the growing conditions, but not a synonym for “growing conditions”. I am amazed at how many winemakers and wine writers incorrectly use “terroir” when they should be stating “growing conditions”.
    Terroir can be superseded by extreme natural factors such as high heat (a la Derrick’s comments) and the human influences of cultural practices, the selection of grape variety, clone and rootstock, and winemaking techniques. However, that does not discredit the theory when studied in a absolute sense a la Charles’s point.
    Signature wine characteristics have long been attributed to specific regions, and those characteristics are perceived all too often to be merely dismissed as marketing spin.
    Finally, anyone with basic viticultural training knows there is no direct/one-to-one correlation between soil minerality and the perception of minerality in wine — e.g. wines grown in calcareous soils don’t taste like limestone, at least none that I ever sampled, or have interest in tasting.

  21. Dylan - November 6, 2009

    I really hope Tom accepts Charlie’s challenge. Charlie worded it pretty clearly, “Climate, sunlight hours, sunlight angle, length of growing season, diurnal temperature changes, trellising systems, the use or non-use of water during the growing season, morning sun versus evening sun and lots of other factors all influence how wine tastes.”

  22. Tom Wark - November 6, 2009

    I’d love to carry out this experiment. The issue of which wines might be “representative” of a region is a can of worms however, particularly if we stick to AVAs.
    This would be interesting.

  23. Mark - November 6, 2009

    Frankly speaking I’m happy we’re even having discussions like these. 30 years ago it was simply assumed terrior was a fact and that new world wine could never compete.
    At the end of the day certain areas are going to produce different types of fruit-if we take the broadest possible definition of terrior it can certainly be helpful in selecting attributes(see high altitude Cab vs Valley floor).
    Interesting post as always

  24. Gretchen Neuman - November 6, 2009

    Oh I think terroir is more than dirt… but dirt can’t be left out of it. And yes, drainage is important, Tom. It is part of the sense of place, but then so is the chemical makeup of the soil. No element can be left out of terroir.. that is why we can’t taste individual elements.. they are too complexly interwoven.

  25. EcoRI - November 6, 2009

    Most current research on the subject of minerality indicates that you could attribute the perception of minerality more to reduced sulphur compounds (here is where four out of five of you stop reading) than higher than typical concentrations of compounds attributed to minerality found in soil. Furthermore, the research also indicates that soil composition does not greatly influence the uptake of certain metabolites leading (either directly or as precursors) to perception of minerality. Rather, a more holistic approach should be taken when examining sources of percieved minerality. As a winemaker/enologist, ask yourself what effects slope, orientation, vineyard practices, climate, drainage, and fertilization had on the ripening characteristics had on your grapes. What happened during the winemaking process? Chances are that the majority of these variables often correlate with the vinification process of your particular region. You don’t see people in the Willamette harvesting in early August, and you would rarely find a barrel program that would work for Paso Robles fruit implemented in Sonoma. I think it is from this regional homogeneity that you find “terroir” and by extrapolation “minerality”. So much more than native yeasts, eucalyptus trees, or what grapes roots do (or don’t) suck up, viticultural and enological practices influence the organoleptics that are characteristic of a certain region. I’m almost sure that when the local growers and producers get together at a bar on Saturday nights, the ideas they share contribute to the kind of groupthink that homogenizes a region’s practices, procedures and, as a result, style (read: terrior).

  26. Phil O - November 6, 2009

    EcoRI – I can see your point that regional production styles will in cases give a regional character to wines. But then how do you explain the many wines made from fruit in one region then fermented/aged and bottles in another. Grapes from many regions in California are hauled to other regions and from Oregon or Washington to California Exc… And these wines still reflect a regional character.

  27. Charlie Olken - November 6, 2009

    How do you not stick to AVAs? Counties are too broad. Sonoma County has at least three recognizable areas for Pinot Noir–and I bet that knowledgable winemakers like Merry Edwards will say that there are many others she could pick out. So does Santa Barbara County. I would argue that there are two and maybe three in Monterey County.
    If the ten places I offered do not work, what other way of slicing the unique segments would work?
    And, while we are talking about the parlor trick end of this activity, the original idea was that places have commonality of character if the viticultural choices and winemaking regimens do not get in the way. Whether a representative wine from Sta. Rita Hills can be picked out by name does not change the fact that it is quite different in character from a wine grown in the Willamette Valley.
    I think experienced tasters can meet your parlor trick challenge. But, the challenge is a full step or two beyond the original claim of no identifiable difference.
    I know that Coke is different from Pepsi and I have separated them correctly blind–and was feeling pretty proud of myself (remember the Pepsi Challenge–it was offered at ball games a year or three ago) until my sporting buddy, a guy who is clearly not a foodie or a taster of any stripe also picked them out by name.
    But, if we had both misidentified them, that would not have proven that there was no difference between them.
    So, what’s your druthers? And do we want to negotiate the Pinot Noir challenge here or by email?
    We can do it with a few tasters or we can try to make it a public challenge and allow anyone reading your blog or my newsletter to join us at a specified place and time.
    Should be fun.

  28. KenPayton - November 6, 2009

    Yawn… Am I the only one who notices that the original research document is not linked? That would cost us $60. Tom quickly shifts the absence of primary citation to web sources alone, what he nevertheless calls a ‘report’. If you read the Decanter piece, the SPI and NYT coverage, they all disappear down a rabbit hole. All refer to each other, a circle jerk of self-reference based on conference comments alone.
    Among the most amusing scientific ‘conclusions’ that have been modified in recent years are that brain cells do not regenerate, that ‘junk’ DNA is of no importance. Specific umami taste bud receptors, the fifth taste sense, were only very recently ‘scientifically’ located, sometime in the late 1990s even though the taste had been known to chefs since the late 19th century.
    I would not place my trust in unvetted ‘geologists’. We don’t know who they work for.

  29. TimHanni - November 6, 2009

    Hi everyone – this is fun. I especially appreciate KenPayton for digressing to umami. You shoulda been in my shoes 20 years ago when I was talking about it. Sheesh.
    Like so many things pertaining to wine the word ‘terroir’ is being used incorrectly. The appropriate translation of terroir is ‘region’ or ‘land’ in a very general context, not soil. It connotes locality and regionality.
    Terre is the word meaning soil or dirt (as well as earth, land, etc.)
    Gout de terroir means a regional taste and takes into account geology, geography, climate, culture, tradition, economy, society – you name it.
    Vin de terroir translates to ‘regional wine.’
    Gout de terre is a negative term that was/is/could still be used to describe a ‘dirty’ or ‘earthy’ quality in a wine. And this was during times when brett, VA and much more evil things were commonplace in ‘quality wines’ that would NEVER be tolerated today. Most people cannot even imagine what the vast majority of wines tasted like even 40 years ago. I am a really old guy and had some experiences with these types of wines. Even loved many of them!
    Terroir is everything in a region that affects the quality and character of a wine. And it is real. And it is still valid today but increasingly difficult to discern with modernization and standardization of viticulture, vinification, aging and cellaring practices. Differentiating between Grand Cru and Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux used to be a relatively simple task. Same holds true for virtually every region of Europe 40 and more years ago. same goes for vintage variation. All you had to do was LOOK at a ’65 and ’66 Musigny and there was no questions. Times have changed.
    Chateuneuf du Pape was aged in chestnut. Carbonic maceration was common in Bordeaux. When concrete became popular it was found that it provided great insulation AND deacidified your wine when you could not legally do that by other methods. The ‘smokey’ character attributed to Pouilly-sur-Loire and Pouilly Fume was a visual phenomenon, not an olfactory characteristic. And in all probability GREAT vintages of Montrachet were more like Dolce; botrytis infected, high alcohol and very sweet, rather than Kistler or any other modern Chardonnay (including modern Montrachet). THAT was pretty easy to distinguish from other Chardonnay-based wines!
    Yes – minerality is a metphorical descriptive phenomenon and the way our sensory receptors and brains differ one person may find it clearly in a wine while another person gets nothing remotely approaching it. The ‘flinty’ character of Chablis or ‘slatey’ character of the Mosel and other wines was and often is SO2 and other elements that lend the illusion of minerality. PR at work, even way back then.
    The geologists are right with their assertions. With the caveat that both physical, nutritional AND chemical aspects of the soil GREATLY impact the makeup of the fruit and in turn the characteristics of the wine. The calcium carbonate in limestone binds potassium which in turns lowers the pH in the fruit and causes lime-induced chlorosis which lessens the vigor of the vine and photosynthetic capacity of ths leave. Ofetne beneficial for white wines, sucks when you want intensity in red wines. Trial and error over time led to basic viticultural distinctions and later science provides us with evidence of why we do what we do. Soil influences wine character while not directly contributing compounds that influence taste or smell.
    So there you go. As Roseanne Roseanadanna used to say, “never mind.”

  30. Andrea - November 7, 2009

    Fascinating discussion….
    Tim Hanni – You Rock!
    OK, first…who eats dirt? (besides Andre T.) So one would assume that the “taste” of the soil would actually come from “smelling” the earth, and then tasting the wine grown in that dirt, and making observations.
    Andre T. consulted at both the famous Hanzell property and the Hoffman Mountain Ranch in Paso. These would be 2 great “ringers” to be in the aforementions Pinot Tasting…2 properties that defy all logic. It has been said that Andre went to HMR at the request of Dr. Hoffman in the 70’s. He scooped up the dirt, smelled it, put it in his mouth, spat it out and said…”you should plant Pinot”. There is an exotic aroma of Cinnamon in the HMR Pinot (now produced by Adelaida) that I have never smelled in any other Pinot. And no one else in Paso grows Pinot of any consequence.
    The Hanzell property, produces some of the most ageble Chards & Pinots in America and would fool many in a tasting of either American AVA’s or Burgundies, for that matter. The “Hanzell” clone has been recognized by UC Davis for decades. I would argue that both of these Vineyards are Monopoles, like the Romanee Conti Vineyard.
    And finally, does this study base their conclusions on a chemical analysis that “proves” that a particular mineral cannot be found in the wine from the soil in which the grapes were grown? What if there is a transformation that cannot be disected Scientifically? I am reminded of the Kermit Lynch story….He went to a producer in Burgundy, to chose barrels. A favorite producer, whose barrels he had purchased for many years. This year, however, there was something missing. A walk through the Vineyards revealed that the scores of Blackberry bushes that had surrounded the vineyards for years, had been removed by the new owner of the adjacent property.
    Perhaps the more we try to Analyze Wine, the more elusive it becomes. One who stops believing in magic, is left only with charts & graphs and those won’t keep you warm at night.

  31. Charlie Olken - November 7, 2009

    Interesting idea. Choose Pinots whose characteristics defy “place” as a way of proving that place exists.
    I get it and love it, but the challenge Tom offered unfortunately was not about differences according to place, but recognizing region character. “Monopole” certainly prove that place affects character.
    In Tom’s challenge, however, the idea would be to find wines that seemed to be consistent with the notion of what wines from that AVA tasted like. The so-called commonality of character.
    Since Hanzell and Adelaida (HMR) are not replicable, they would not meet the standards of Tom’s challenge.
    On the other hand, if we took a dozen competent tasters and asked them to describe similarities and differences, those wines would stand out as being different, and thus prove the thesis that place matters and that the differences from place to place can be spotted and separated.
    And, Andrea, you suggest another interesting point. What about the influence of the winery? Adelaida Pinot and HMR Pinots from the same vineyard have different styistic approaches. Perhaps the site does overrides those differences, but what about limiting the challenge to wines from just a couple of makers in order to limit the influence of winemaking difference.
    Folks like Siduri, Testarossa, Williams-Selyem, Kosta Browne, Chasseur, Patz & Hall and others make wine from many AVAs and make them well.

  32. Andrea - November 7, 2009

    Thanks for your input Charlie…FYI – HMR has the name, but does not have access to the fruit from the famous HMR Vineyard which is solely owned by Adelaida, and has been for quite a while now.
    And as for the 2 wines I mentioned, they would be “Ringers” with all that that word applies. You know….just to make things interesting 🙂

  33. Vinogirl - November 8, 2009

    For your Pinot challenge give a third party a budget and let them pick the AVA’s.
    Famous vineyards, different wines…perhaps a selection from a multitude of producers who buy same varietal grapes from Stagecoach Vineyard up in the hills of Oakville, (a huge AVA which not only encompasses a large expanse of the Napa Valley floor, but also the Mayacamas and Vaca ranges.)

  34. The Wine Mule - November 8, 2009

    Charlie: Wouldn’t you want to specify California AVAs, at least for scale? I mean, it’s a mighty long way from North Coast (+3 million acres) to, say, Anderson Valley (600 acres). Just sayin’

  35. Todd S - November 8, 2009

    I respectfully disagree.
    I have talked with two winemakers, one from southern France and another from the Russian River valley. There is a period of time just after budbreak that they called “smoke uptake” which is the time that grapes are most susceptible to environmental flavor influences.
    The minerality doesn’t get sucked up via the vine, but the flavor and aroma compounds in the air literally stick to the wax on a grape skin. That is where the flavor of mineral comes from.
    Wild herbs grow in the languedoc and it is no surprise that the wines reflect that.

  36. Charlie Olken - November 8, 2009

    To TW Mule–
    The question of which areas to pick comes down to those that show commonality of character. Clearly, an AVA like North Coast or Central Coast is pretty meaningless.
    The names I suggested above do meet the “commonality of character” test in that there are many wines from those areas that have common personalities.
    But, of course, we all know that such common characteristics can get lost in picking choices and vinification choices. Still, there are enough good choices from RRV/Westside Road and RRV/near to the ocean (Freestone et al) that I would find it fun to have to be served ten wines from those two parts of the RRV and to try to separate them. I am guessing that I could satisfy Tom’s 3 of 10 challenge and that most folks who taste enough wine to be familiar with the Pinots of those places could do it also.
    A few years back, Wine Country Magazine sponsored a similar challenge. Tasters of their choosing were poured ten wines blind in one grouping and were told only, if I have the story correct, that there were five Pinots from RRV and five from Carneros and asked to pick them out.
    I recall that Tom Elkjer, Susan Pey and I were among those who sat in on this event and that we did a decent job of telling them apart–enough so that we would have satisfied Tom Wark’s challenge.
    I am not a slave to place, however, in that I believe that great wine depends on depth, varietal character, balance, nuance, and some level of come-hither attraction. Good places make that possible. Lousy places do not. So, yes, I am a believer that place matters, and also that many places will show a certain commonality of character.
    But, there are limits. The Chalk Hill area of the RRV has very little in common with Green Valley, for example yet both are in the RRV. That is why my earlier list called for specific smaller areas within the Russian River Valley.
    There is also no real value in using wines from areas that have no specific cachet for Pinot Noir such as Lodi. My tasting panel does a pretty good job of picking out Lodi Zins and Cabs, but there are not enough Lodi Pinots to make that AVA a useful part of the challenge.
    By the same token, most tasters here in northern CA would be hard put to identify Okanagan Valley Pinots from Canada.
    We have not heard much from Mr. Wark on this topic, but if he wants to go forward with it in some form, I am happy to assist, and if that means that I disqualify myself because I am picking the wines or arranging the venue or whatever, I am sure that there are plenty of competent tasters that can be identfied who would be useful test subjects.

  37. Phil O - November 9, 2009

    I am getting worried about Tom. I think he is starting to see fraud and conspiracy everywhere!

  38. Roger King - November 9, 2009

    Interesting discussion which caused me to remember we approached this topic at Appellation America. The Challenge between Tom and Charlie was basically undertaken in a series of Best of Appellation panels in 2008 and 09 covering SLH, Monterey, Santa Cruz Mtns, Mt Harlan, Anderson Valley and some RRV. I continue to think work done in Santa Cruz Mtns was most interesting as a host of specific difference zones were identified.
    I further recall Tim Hanni and Clark Smith doing a small tasting for some Davis students RE: Minerality at the offices towards the end. It had little to do with soil minerals climbing up the vines into the grapes to be found in the glass. Those darn geologists might have gotten that part right, Carol Meredith would agree as I recall.
    Is it simply site counts, specific site even more, and that wax cuticul of the grape is very much in play.

  39. irrigation systems - July 14, 2010

    quite an interesting blog. i did not knew that the factors like soil composition, aspect of the land, micro climate, vine density, vine age, cover crop, irrigation routine etc affect the quality of wine.

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