In an age of laboratory breakthroughs and miracle fertilizers, agronomists might have you believe they could culture any food in a Petri dish; but every sensate person with the gifts of smell, taste and texture are poised to discern the real dirt regarding the importance of soil and terroir in particular. One sure way is to try a merry experiment at home. Is terroir a myth?
No matter how many years were spent at oenology school or how mighty a sum was shelled out for state-of-the-art equipment, nothing and I repeat nothing comes before place. Jonathan Swift still rings true: “you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” just as one cannot make fine wine from inferior fruit or soil. Many on lesser grounds have tried planting the finest clones of this or that noble variety to find their attempts were futile. Even though certain soils aren’t suited to the production of fine wine grapes, people with delusions of grandeur [or else the sad wish to justify their costly real estate] still try to force their vineyards to do the impossible. Lofty fortunes vanish on any number of tools and treatments along the way to decent but unmoving wine. Is “innocuous” any sort of praise? Is “fruity and yummy” enough to inspire a lifelong love for wine? This is not to say that all wines are made in the vineyard because it is folly to discredit the capable hands of experienced winemakers but just as Escoffier, the pen behind Le Guide Culinaire and gastronome of the highest order, acknowledged how fine ingredients are essential to create haute cuisine, such rings true for crafting wine; just as the chef lifts base ingredients to wondrous compliments of texture and flavor, the same human guidance is needed in vineyard and cellar –and yet ingredient quality remains paramount.
All this begs the question: what yields the best ingredients? Green thumbs and sound vineyard management are crucial to be sure, but it should go without saying that some sites are better poised than others to ripen and concentrate grapes in ways our human efforts are simply not capable. Some try to traduce the widely held belief in terroir claiming intensive agriculture can achieve the same results. If, however, you were to taste variations of Chardonnay such as a Puligny-Montrachet beside a Chevalier-Montrachet beside a Pouilly-Fuissé beside a Napa Chardonnay beside one from the Adelaide Hills beside one from Casablanca Valley; no matter how you cut it –even if all of these came from the highest quality varietal clones that only bore few clusters of concentrated fruit at harvest, each of these wines would taste entirely different from one another according to their terroir. Soil profile, climate, latitude, aspect to the sun, drainage, and altitude are all factors of terroir that inform the final wine. We who love terroir yearn for wines with a goût de terroir –a taste of the earth that expresses the mineral soils that nourished the vines’ very roots; a wine with scents, flavors and textures all resulting from the land where the vines were grown. Different terroir lead to differing wines and although taste is subjective and no one can deny that each of us prefer wine according to our own palate, wines of reoccurring greatness have lead to a consensus that certain gifted places have earned a more hallowed reputation for wines that continually distinguish themselves above the rest.
The truth of terroir is behind all the great wine of the world and is what makes wine drinking such a joy. Terroir is also the inspiration and purpose behind Artisan Vineyards’ global portfolio of place based wines. We are fortunate to live in an age where we can travel the world one glass at a time. Pouring over maps and perusing the wine growing countries, regions, and appellations offers much more than merely tonight’s pairing with dinner or tomorrow’s cellar to lay down, these take you from your arm chair and your dinner table to the lands from whence they came and offer a glimpse of these sacred slopes so far away. If you are new to this concept of terroir or skeptical that it exists, compare and contrast varietal wines of the same and differing terroir. With glasses spread before you, you’re sure to appreciate each terroir in turn and as well as the leitmotif shared by wines hailing from the same appellation. For those who’ve already discovered the nature of terroir, we welcome you to a website sincerely devoted to place based wine. Browsing wines according to place is a snap when using the Shop Wine search engine to the left. First select the Type you seek and then Fine Tune Your Search according to Country and Region and then narrow your hunt according to the wine reviews that appeal to you most. Happy hunting!