Friday, July 22, 2011

Why Terroir Matters – Blog by: Jordan Harris – Tarara Winery Winemaker

A couple of days ago, as a part of the WBC11 pre-conference tour, I had an opportunity to meet Jordan Harris. He is the Tarara Winery winemaker and here is his article "Why Terroir Matters":

"This past weekend we released the first of our Single Vineyard wines at Tarara and they got great response, but there was one very common question, “If this wine is from such and such place, that means you don’t grow all your grapes here, why is that?” The reason is simple. There are so many great vineyards around Virginia, and we want to make wines that express many of their beautiful sites. To limit only to our own Estate vineyard Nevaeh leaves us falling short on so much potential. Not that we don’t absolutely love Nevaeh, but we have a goal of expressing the terroir of several world class vineyards, instead of focusing on different varietal expressions from one sole vineyard.
There are many places all over the world that can make incredible Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. All of these varieties have their own characteristics that are the norm as part of the grapes genetic make-up. I believe there is a place for all of these wines, hence we continue to make some Chardonnay, Viognier and Cabernet Franc as varietal wines, but our real excitement comes from the wines that are defined by their place, not their grape variety.
With the wine industry becoming more and more homogenized, every winemaker has to ask themselves the question, “Are we happy being the middle of the pack, or do we only want to accept the best?” Like every industry in the world, wine has many advancements that have been made. Most of these advancements help us to produce great, but often simple wines consistently. We can control the water content in the grapes through Reverse Osmosis, accentuate characters through select yeast strains and enzymes, add several different tannins derived from oak and grapes at exact levels from powder form, and there is even access to concentrates for flavor and color. None of these things can help to accentuate terroir. The only way to let terroir speak is to do a great job farming and stand back and let the wine make itself.
I am certain that as much as I love our Chardonnay, Viognier and Cabernet Franc varietally labeled wines, there is likely to be another wine labeled with the same variety that is just as good. Now with our Nevaeh, Honah Lee, and Tranquility we have something to offer that very few can. The terroir of the vineyard!!! The Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat blend of Tranquility has a lean palate, with abundant floral and red berry fruit aromatics, firm tannins and a great backbone of acidity. Really, when tasting it, it is a wine of its own. Same goes for the nervy acidity, balanced by extremely ripe fruit characters and a streak of minerality from our Nevaeh blends.
Single vineyards and terroir inspired wines are nothing new. If you look around the wine world, a huge portion of the wines we look at as benchmarks are exactly that. The “Chateau” wines of Bordeaux are estate grown wines that are defined by their site. No one could ever argue the Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau Clarke are similar wines. They may have similar winemaking techniques, but Haut Brion is…well grown on the Haut Brion vineyard. Getting into Burgundy, all the wines are either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir (OK, technically Auxerrois is allowed in lower level wines and Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay make an appearance in lesser appellations like Saint Bris). What differentiates these wines? The vineyard!!! Arguably the most sought after wines come from Domaine de la Romanee Conti. They make several wines ranging from Romanee Conti and La Tache (as their monopole wines) to Echezeaux, Grand Echezeux, Richbourg and Romanee St. Vivant. All of these wines are Pinot Noir and all of them are know for their own characters all with a small area of only the Cotes de Nuit half of Burgundy. These wines are all about terroir. Would it not be a shame if they simply blended those wines and made a generic Bourgogne Pinot Noir? We would lose some of the most exciting wines in the world, if we only stuck to varietally labeled or inspired wines. A great Pinot Noir is fantastic, but it can never be Richbourg, unless it is from Richbourg and the others will always have differences. The same is true here. A great Viognier/Chardonnay blend will always be a great wine, but there is only one way to get a Nevaeh, and that is to get the wine grown on Nevaeh. Not that I want to compare our wines to those of Romanee Conti or Haut Brion, but the concept is the same. Make a wine that is characteristic of the site, not of the variety.
Of course not all terroirs are created equal. Some have ancient volcanic ash giving a smoky minerality like Oregon Pinot’s, some have Schist giving a chalky like flinty character like Chablis and some have Limestone like Nevaeh giving bright acidity and fresh minerality. Some just simply have hard clay that does not allow the roots to dig and can get more fruit driven, but potentially dilute wines if not careful. The degree and direction of the slope play a huge role, as do any water bodies or other moderating physical properties. Really terroir is defined by how everything surrounding the grape vine affects how that grape naturally wants to grow and what it may take from the soil. Some varieties work better than others in some terroirs. It is all about choosing the right varieties and clones for the vineyard, then farming that vineyard to extract all that Mother Nature is giving into the grape and let it express itself in the wine through a non-manipulation approach to winemaking. Attempting to truly define terroir is a true artisanal approach to winemaking and only interfering when absolutely necessary."

To know more about Tarara Winery:

I don't know if I agree with everything that he says... Jordan is also a strong defender of screw caps (and you probably know that I have been on the "cork side of this fight"), but he is certainly making some very interesting wines... so I hope I have the opportunity in the future to get know more about him and his beliefs.

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Unknown said...

Interesting article about terroir. Just last Friday on one of my private guided tour here in Portugal happened on a strikingly good mono variety Voignier from an Alenquer vineyard here in Portugal that brought together the good earth & climate of the region coupled with a slightly different fermentation that made it stand out from the rest of the Voignier bunch!

Unknown said...

Thought you might like to see the photo of the wine here linked to my blog post.

Trelawney Wines said...

Thank you for sharing Mr. Harris’ article. His beliefs in terroir are interesting and profound. Despite not having tasted any wine from Tarara Winery, I still think that a winemaker with such a philosophy as Mr. Harris is bound to create the finest wines.

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