TERROIR? What is it? Is there such a thing? Well, yes, I believe there is, the short answer is, it’s the natural components that contribute to the flavours of a wine. For me it is the sense of place as expressed by the wine.
Below is a more formal description;
“Laville lists the following factors (components) as determining terroir:
- Climate, as measured by TEMPERATURE and RAINFALL.
- Sunlight energy, or insolation, received per unit of land surface area
- Relief (or TOPOGRAPHY, or geomorphology), comprising altitude, slope and aspect.
- Hydrology, or SOIL-WATER resolutions.
- Geology and pedology, determining the soil’s basic physical and chemical characteristics”*
Now a little about these 5 components of Terroir
Climate, it is important, finding the right climate to plant the vines is the first step in getting the best results from the vines, Planting a Grenache vine in Tasmania is probably not going to work as the grapes will most likely not ripen. It is a balancing act as some of the best wines are grown where it is just warm enough to ripen the grapes.
“Another aspect of terroir is that its greatest expression occurs when grape ripening is relatively slow and therefore late in the season. This occurs in cool climates, or in warmer climates when varieties are sufficiently late ripening. In all quality wine regions in Europe, growers have chosen varieties that just achieve ripeness under the local climatic conditions.”*
Sunlight, well without it the vines are not going to grow are they, kind of a given. No point planting the beloved Pinot Noir vine in the basement, it’s not going to work, and if you put in grow lights there’s a good chance the cops may come visiting.
Relief, a bit of a combination of the first two as a vineyard on a slope can capture the sunlight to better effect than say one out on the plains. Altitude can help with regulating temperature and therefore ripening.
Hydrology, is a very important part of terroir, below is a quote about the great crus of Bordeaux;
“First, none of their soils was very fertile, but then none of the vines showed mineral element deficiencies either. Secondly, their soils regulated water supply to the vines in such a way that is was nearly always just moderately sufficient, without extremes in either direction. Drainage was always excellent, so that both water-logging and sudden increases in water supply to the vines were avoided no matter how much the rainfall. In the case of clay soils, this depended on their having fairly high organic matter and / or calcium contents, so that they maintained friability and an open pore structure through which water could move readily.
At the same time, the capacity to store soil water within a soil depth accessible to the vine roots was great enough to ensure supply through prolonged rainfall deficits. This might be achieved either by great soil depth and a deep, sparse root system, in the case of sandy soils with little water storage capacity per unit volume; or a lesser depth in heavier soils, combined with a capacity of the clay organic matter to some of the water tightly enough so that it is only slowly available to the roots.”*
It’s a bit nasty this wine business, Don’t pamper the vines, only give the vines just enough or even less to make them work hard to produce flavoursome grapes!
These four ingredients above are all very important to producing great grapes, but do they tell you where the wine is from? No. If all the above was isolated they would deliver exactly the same result anywhere in the world, so my guess is the soil.
The fifth component geology (the soil).
“The effect of terroir on wine quality is now quite well understood: it is mainly mediated through vine water supply by the soil and the climate, although mineral supply (and especially nitrogen supply) can also play a role. This effect of terrior can partly be obtained by good canopy and irrigation management in dry climates, However, the effect of terroir on wine supply is still poorly understood. The high quality of Chx AUSONE (limestone), CHEVEL BLANC (gravel and clay), and PETRUS (heavy clay) can be explained by the water regime. But why do they taste different and why do they each have their own style, despite very similar viticultural and oenological practices? This aspect of terroir is extremely interesting, because top wines are not only very good, but also unique, with their own style.”*
This final component, the soil, is the truly mystical part of Terroir. It required all the other components to be in harmony, but ultimately it is the soil that lay beneath the vine that allows the wine to impart onto you its origin.
Vineyards are planted in some of the most beautiful places in the world and the wines produced from these vineyards can express this beauty.
*All quotes are taken from “The Oxford Companion to Wine” I didn’t make them up!