Terroir is a funny word. Wikipedia states it to be:
“The set of all environmental factors that affect a crop’s epigenetic qualities, when the crop is grown in a specific habitat. Collectively, these environmental characteristics are said to have a character; terroir also refers to this character.”
Mention this word to the average wine-drinking Joe and they draw a blank. They have no idea about place, about all the little things that make great wine great, and they are probably happy not knowing; they just want the wine to taste good, consistently, and don’t bore them with the details! Lucky them.
Then mention the word terroir to your wine drinking buddies, and sit tight – the battle is about to begin. It is a funny word not because it is misunderstood; the opposite in fact. Most of us are well aware of what it means and what is signifies, yet even today many will argue that it doesn’t have any effect (some say CAN’T have any effect) on the wine. Oh, really?
Yes, it’s true. I remember a few years back having a winery marketing fella dispel the notion of terroir, crediting instead the quality of their wine making staff. So I asked him, “If this thing called ‘place’ doesn’t affect the outcome of the wine, then why was the winery he was being paid by located in Napa Valley?” After all, if place is of no consequence, then why there, where everything is sooo expensive? Well, it’s because Napa has a terroir, many in fact, and is indeed the reason why so many high quality (and priced) wines come from Napa is a function of terroir, among other things, one of which I suppose is great wine making. But then again, he was the same fella who didn’t think Argentine beef was all that!
Ahhh, the wonderful world of wine. I don’t think the winemakers in Chablis add flint to their barrels, nor do they add petrol to the wines of Puligny-Montrachet or Alsace Riesling. Its place, folks. It’s all about that place.
Shayne Hebert, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Sales Manager
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineShayne