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Monday, January 2, 2012

Authentic Wine - Question of the Day 01/02/2012

A couple of days ago I posted the article about  Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop MW's book "Authentic Wine"
This is such a fascinating topic to me that I decided to start asking questions to grab as many opinions as I can. I'll try to post daily... but let's see how it goes...
Here is the first one:
Is terroir a partnership between the site and the winegrower?

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Sharon said...

In Paolo Cianferoni's case -- yes!

Peter Cargasacchi said...

No. Why make it complicated? Terroir is site induced. It is those things that never change except as a reflection of external conditions such as weather and farming practices. The winegrowers practices are not terroir. They are farming. Weather is not terroir.

Terroir is those things that are the site. Soil Chemistry, soil depth,rooting capacity, water holding capacity, drainage, cation exchange, slope aspect, soil thermal properties, etc.

Sharon said...

Peter by analogy, aren't you saying it is the ingredients that make the cake and not the baker? Surely, there are shades of gray in definitions; that is what makes wine making so interesting. There is this constant interchange of complexity.

Silenus said...

I find these questions to be of the kind that forever go in circles, and as such, never come to a point of agreement. Both sides become entrenched in their point of view and neither has an effect on the other. That being said, I am in the "vine grower and wine maker has an important part to play in terroir" camp.

Terroir expression in wine can best be proven when, as Peter puts it "those things that never change" effect the particular smell, taste of a wine. Given the same plot of land, the same vines, the same farming practices and the same winemaking techniques, terrior is best expressed by the similarities AND the differences in a wine from vintage to vintage over a long period of time. Change any of those things, and the terroir is expressed differently. Farmer, wine maker and weather are all an important part. They cannot be removed from the equation.

Most certainly a wine maker can obliterate any sense of "terroir" as Peter describes it.

Blake Brown said...

Terroir is terroir and what the winemaker does with it is an individual thing. Terroir is constant. Winemakers adapt and change what they do from season to season.
Two different aspects of one common theme.

Matt Deller said...

I agree, terroir is strictly site.

The whole reason that the concept of terroir emerged was that French wine growers in each region grew and made their wine almost identically to their neighbours, yet some vineyards consistantly produced better wine than others.

They understandably related these differences to the constant factor of geology. The concept was most marked in the coldedest, wettest regions where differences in the physical properties of the soil had the biggest impact; particularly the balance of water retention and drainage to buffer the availability of rainfall on the vines and reduce vine vigour, resulting in better-balanced vines with lower yields, that would ripen optimally even in the coolest years.

Differences were most marked in cold wet regions with mono-cepage, as they could not even be related to differences in grape variety; the best examples being Burgundy and the Mosel. Even today, Burgundies vineyards are classified according to specific plot; whereas the more temperate, multi-varietal Medoc is classified by brand.

However while terroir is exclusively site; 'vin de terroir' is a partnership between site and winegrower. Without the winegrower, the most privaleged terroir may as well be a carpark. The fruit from the vineyard that today makes Le Pin was sent off to make generic Pomerol until 1979, when the Thienpont family revealed the true greatness of this 3 metre deep gravel site.

Great wine doesn't necessarily need to be vin de terroir, as Grange, or even Lafite's mix of terroir over 92 hectares attest; and great terroir doesnt necessarily produce great vin de terroir, as Chateau Grillet notoriously proved until Denis Dubourdieu began to demonstrate again why it was identified as a great terroir in the first place.

That said, today, generally the greatness of the greatest terroir is amplified by the winegrower, who treat their precious sites with deeper respect than they would a less privaleged plot. Even in Jerez, where man and yeast's influence overwhelmingly overides terroir in importance; the area's one 'vin de terroir', Valdespino Innocente exclusively from the Macharnudo Alto vineyard is also treated more reverently than any other fino sherry, being the only to be fermented in oak barrels and from 10 criaderas compared to the usual 2 or 3.

So, while terroir itself is as constant as the Earth's geology, changing at a rate impercievable in our lifetimes, 'vins de terroir', and particularly great 'vins de terroir' are most definitely a partnership between site and winegrower.

Karin S. Fester said...

“Is terroir a partnership between the site and the winegrower?...”

No. What's being described is anthropocentric-economic, utilization. Terroir means something else entirely. I do not view terroir as a partnership between the site and the grape grower/cultivator. However, I do see this “partnership” as tangential to the terroir. When I say anthropocentric-economic, utilization, I am referring to humans, their agricultural (cultivation) practices, meeting supply and demand in the markets, and how the wine produced with provide them with money as a means for their vineyard/winery to survive (hence their families etc).

The concept of “terroir” I define as something quite comprehensive. A terroir has various components and they are all interrelated, and it is natural-phyiscal-environment. The terroir is composed of these elements: soil (clay, marls, sandy loam etc), the exposure of the vineyard to the sun, and the climate (mesoclimate of the region; microclimate of a particular vineyard and even sub.microclimates), precipitation, water drainage, flora and fauna living in a given microniche, etc. Ultimately all these elements interact and affect the grape development. In addition to this one has to consider human activity which can affect elements of the terroir in a positive or negative way: chemicals to remove vermin (like frogs, lizards; some people view it this way), grass cutting, weed removal pruning, etc.

The relationship between the vineyard (site) and the cultivator (vinter) is tangential to the terroir. Humans may be able to enhance a certain aspect of a vineyard, or ruin parts of it. But ultimately the cultivator must work with the “nature” in a holistic way, and not against it (not dominate it). There So in this sense I do not see this as being “ a partnership” (reciprocal), but rather as the cultivator being 'dependent' on the nature. The cultivator must work “with” the natural terroir, and strive to get the best wine he/she can from what the vineyard can actually produce. For me it also means embracing eco-centric values and holism: respecting the intrinsic value of the terroir and the vineyard and its interconnectedness to the comprehensive terroir itself. And, I believe this: “the wine is made in the vineyard, and no where else”

Karin Susan Fester

Anonymous said...

Terroir on its own is like a tree in the forest falling without being heard. The winemaker's impact - from deciding when to pick to the degree of charring (assuming native yeast) is separate and immensely important.

Argyle said...

Not a partnership, no. It's the site in conjunction with the right grapes, and can be ruined by inept winemaking. Case in point: Lytton Springs Zinfandel. The previous owners thought they could make the same wine from their grapes as Paul Draper did, so they went and tried to. Long story short; they couldn't. Ridge bought them out and Lytton Springs regained its rightful spot in the wine world. Terroir & vinification at their best.

Luiz Alberto said...

Sharon, thanks for the link to the beautiful Caparsa's story. Paolo is a great guy and I believe he is doing his best to interpret the Tuscan identity of his vineyards. Cheers!

Luiz Alberto said...

@Silenius, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I agree with you that these discussions can go in circles... but we still have to try to go somewhere with them, don't we?

Luiz Alberto said...

@ Peter - @Blake - @Matt - @Karin,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated.

This is what Jamie and Sam had to say about terroir in their book:
> "Grapes grown in different places result in wines that taste different. Sometimes the effect is subtle; sometimes it is pronounced. It's hard to imagine anyone disagreeing with this rather simple concept"

> "Human input shapes the must and the wine in so many ways that excluding it from the definition of terroir is ludicrous"

> "One of the arguments against terroir is that there's often more in common in a range of wines from different appellations made by the same winemaker than there is in wines from the same appellation made by different winemakers"

> "The site-specific characteristics that lie in the heart of terroir seem to be expressed only where winemakers are able and willing to allow them; too much intervention can destroy this fragile but important sense of place... but terroir can also be lost through too little intervention or simply poor winemaking. Natural wines made with no sulfur dioxide additions often taste very similar, and the winemaking choices have in this case (again) resulted in the loss of a sense of place"

And they conclude:
> "On the one hand, it can be argued that it is necessary to exclude the human element in definitions of terroir, or else the whole topic becomes excessively complex, with too many variables. On the other hand, we worry that a simple definition of terroir that is restricted to just the characteristics of the site and the way in which the vine adapts to its environment in the process of grape production doesn't fully recognize the reality of the situation."

That's exactly the way I feel. There's no simple answer, so we have to leave behind the dogmas that paralyze the evolution of knowledge. Don't we need to try to find the answers in the middle ground in some sort of shade gray? Yes, because if we try to get black and white out of this, we're going nowhere!


Barrie Larvin said...

I think it is a combination of both.
Go to to see the comments by Phil Baxter Junior.

Barrie Larvin MS

Philip Goodband Master of Wine said...

Such an interesting topic! That wines of a region have distinctive characteristics is well known. Just compare Syrah from the Northern Rhone and Barossa and Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough and Sancerre, Chardonnay from Carneros and Beaune.
The answer I would give is Yes with a stress on the word partnership. In my view seeking to express the best (whatever this means) characteristics of a grape or grapes grown in a particular place in a particular year requires working as closely with the vines as possible but with minimal intervention then handling the fruit as gently as possible during winemaking.
The big question for me is to what degree so what treatments are given during winemaking? Which are simply custom and practice and have become accepted as "the taste of terroir"! The use of cultured vs non added yeast (ie. the cellar culture which has built up over the years) is certainly a factor and may depend on whether the cellar has ever used cultured yeast. The use of oak is itself is both a complexing agent and an added flavour. Is this an element of terroir?
If wine has to reflect its terroir and be commercially viable then the concept of sustainability arises. In this I include the business sustainability from one generation to another if an estate. So the wine has to be saleable and if possible be recogniseable from vintage to vintage.This may include the use of oak.
Yes. terroir is a partnership and as in all partnerships there must be give and take and is a constant balancing act.
I look forward to other contributions.

Anonymous said...

What you are leaving out is that there are many, many clonal variations of individual grapes as well as a host of rootstocks on which they can be grown. Saying a cab from one region tastes different from cab grown in another is simplistic and misleading unless you specify which clone and which rootstock you're comparing, as well as the weather, heat days, trellising practices, fertilizing, irrigation, cultivation, row cover crops, yeast strain, fermentation temps, storage temps, and all the hundreds of other variables that go into growing and fermenting grapes. It would be interesting to see someone try to control for some of those variables and then taste wines from two different areas.

Angela Reddin said...

Castello di Calosso - I visited this group in Piedmonte some years ago. 10 producers who are trying to clearly show their individual terroirs; by adhering to a strict set of conditions for picking, fermenting and maturation of their parcels - everything is done exactly the same,at the same time and under the same conditions, transported to the Castle, fermented for the same length of time in the same type of vessel and then stored/matured and finally bottled in exactly the same containers. They even lable under the same name. This is to, as much as they can, highlight the soil influences on the wines. (By the way the wines are more than impressive). They agreed on the set of parameters (how on earth do you get 10 italians to agree on anything, let alone winemakers!) and adhere strictly each vintage. If something dosent work, they all have to agree to change. I think they show real courage and great trust in each other.