A personal opinion on terroir

There’s a word that is often thrown around a lot in wine circles, and that is ‘terroir’. It’s a common word that is just taken for granted if you know what it means but, if you don’t, it can sound pretentious. So, what is it?

Terroir is, quite frankly, the single most important element of winemaking (in my opinion) as it is the essence of a region which gives wine its character. Actually, it goes further than that as each vineyard has its own terroir.

Essentially, terroir encompasses the physical aspects of a vineyard, e.g. the soil content, the altitude of the plot, the atmosphere surrounding it and the climate. Every vineyard is unique and has to be managed differently in order to yield the best crop, which will then result in the best wine.

Terroir goes further than just knowing if a plot is at a different altitude or if it is south facing. There’s a reason why some parts of the world are known for a certain style of wine and other parts known for something completely different and that is because certain grapes respond better to certain climates and soils. They all have different qualities and it is up to the wine maker to understand which grapes work well in which area.

You could argue that understanding terroir in old-world wine regions is slightly easier because most wineries in France, Spain and Italy stick to strict appellation laws which reflect a region’s terroir and the wine is named after the region/town that it is made in rather than the grape it is made from. Grapes are seen to actually be secondary information. So, in theory, a winemaker from France would already have a bit of a head start in knowing what to plant. By no means am I saying that winemaking in France, Italy or Spain is easier than anywhere else, but there are some advantages to it.

New-world wine regions don’t have the luxury of being steeped in tradition that the old-world does and places like New Zealand, South Africa and the USA are relatively new faces in the world of winemaking but they have their regions in which they know certain gapes match their terroir e.g. Chenin Blanc in South Africa, Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand and Pinot Noir in Oregon USA. In Nova Scotia, wine makers understand more and more each season and it opens up more possibilities for different grapes to be produced. It’s all pretty exciting.

These days when writing blog posts I really try to not be too over the top with the romanticism of wine, especially because recently I fell out of love with wine a bit (read here). I never want to force anything or sound too excited about it just because I feel I have to but I will make an exception for this post.

Understanding the terroir of a region or vineyard in particular is just a beautiful thing. When someone knows the ins and outs of their land, adapts to changing weather conditions and knows when they should be harvesting their grapes based on soil acidity, well it just deserves a round of applause.

Every wine is different. Yes there are bigger companies that use technology and new methods to have a consistent product but you get that with any industry. There’s something truly special about a wine made at a smaller scale and terroir is the single most important factor in this. The fact that someone can say that all wine tastes the same as each other is actually quite offensive to the people who make it and to be honest, saying that is literally like saying that every dog is the same because it’s a dog.

Terroir is beautiful.

– James

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