Let's Talk About Terroir
Let’s Talk About Terroir
Terroir is a complicated term, yet a necessary component of modern day winemaking and wine tasting. The concept of terroir is complex and nuanced, however once understood it can take wine knowledge and appreciation to a new level. The word terroir combines both scientific and romantic understandings of wine, and as such it requires a rather lengthy explanation.
Terroir (\ˌter-ˈwär\) is a French term that has no exact translation, but is used to describe the environment where wine grapes are grown. This word includes all of the factors that effect the phenolic and physical development of grapes in a vineyard; climate, soil, geology, altitude, slope, water drainage, sun exposure, and in certain understandings the winemaker and cellar workers. All aspects of a vineyard’s terroir affect the taste, style and appreciation of the wine; therefore each vineyard has its own unique sense of place. Each grape varietal is different, and requires a specific set of terroir characteristics, which may lead to successful wine grape production. For example, Syrah grows best in a warm climate, with high limestone content in the soil, good drainage, and can withstand some moderate wind exposure. In contrast, Pinot Noir requires less sun, and less heat, and has much more delicate berries, so wind exposure must be minimal. This is an example of a varietal specific terroir differences.
There are also differences in the way the word terroir is used in the old world versus new world wine production areas. Old world wine regions, like France and Germany, tend to simplify the understanding of the word to environmental factors. They believe that terroir does not include the winemaker’s hand. They find that a wine’s quality is most directly determined by the terroir of the vineyard, and to a much lessor extent human intervention. In contrast, in new world regions, such as the United State, New Zealand and Chile, most people would agree that the winemaker has an equal role in wine quality and style. This is likely due to the fact that we have a lot more freedom here in the U.S. with our winemaking styles. Particularly areas like France and Italy with the AOC and DOC systems. Winemakers in the new world can play with a variety of factors that effect the style of the wine, while old world regions must follow dictated protocol in wine production. For this reason, we tend to include the hand of the winemaker in our understanding of terroir here in the United States.
Whether you prefer the old world or new world understanding of the word, terroir is a valuable concept to understand for any wine lover.
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