Fact or Fiction?
(Reflection of Place, a
reflection of the place where the wine is grown. Or "It
Tastes Like The Dirt It's Grown In")
What is Terroir
the notion that the growing site defines a wine's character.
the word "terroir" to a wine lover, and you're likely to
see that the debate over the importance of terroir, or the lack of
importance, is in high gear; particularly now that so-called "New World"
winemakers (particularly those in California & Oregon) have decided that terroir is
"where it's at" in the scheme of modern winegrowing.
"Where it's at" is precisely the point of terroir. This very French concept
purports that the place where the grapes are grown is what gives a
particular wine its style and flavor (its "typicity", as wine professionals
call it). And that place is very specific, usually a single vineyard or
parcel of land, or in a larger sense, the AVA (American Viticulture Area) or an appellation if you're in the "Old World" (an area
delimited by the government as being recognized for its specific type of terroir).
There are 4 basic elements of terroir:
Wine regions can be basically divided into two
types of climates: cool climate and warm climate.
Wine grapes from warmer climates generate higher sugar levels (which
produce higher alcohol wines), whereas cooler climate wine grapes
generally have lower sugar levels and retain more acidity.
receives just a touch more nighttime coolness because
of the Van Duzer Corridor in the Coastal Mountain range than the
Dundee Hills AVA
While both regions produce Pinot Noir, the Eola-Hills
produces Pinot wines with
greater natural acidity because of the
There are hundreds of different types of soil,
rock and mineral deposits in the world’s vineyards. Most vineyard soils
can be sorted into about 5 to 6 different types of soil that affect the
flavor of wine. While there is no scientific proof associating the taste
of ‘minerality’ to actual minerals in a wine, something does happen. It’s
almost as though some types of soils act like a tea-bag for water as it
passes through to the vine’s roots.
For instance; The Willamette Valley is marked by 16
million year old volcanic soils. Jory (volcanic) soil series are
very deep, well drained soils developed from materials that have been
transported from higher slopes (colluvium) and weathered from basic
igneous (basalt) bedrock (residuum).
Believe it or not, altitude is an increasingly important focus for
quality vineyards. Besides elevation, things like geological features
(mountains, valleys, being located far inland), other flora (plants,
microbes and trees) and large bodies of water affect how a wine from a
particular region tastes.
For instance The Willamette Valley has vineyards up to
1,000 feet above sea level and corridors allowing cool marine winds to
flow in. The high elevation & corridors gives Pinot heightened acidity due
to cool nighttime temperatures. Within the Valley, the Eola Hills & Dundee
Hills sub regions are famous for its high quality age-worthy Pinot.
(*only in areas entrenched with a particular winemaking tradition)
Traditional winemaking (and vineyard growing) techniques can also
contribute to a wine’s terroir. Even though tradition is a human
interaction, ancient winemaking methods tend to be highly dependent on the
region’s climate, soil and terrain.
Additionally, the Willamette Valley vineyards are typically dry-farmed as
part of the terroir. Through dry-farming, the deep growing plants interact with the
microbes in the soil, absorbing nutrients and minerals that contribute to the complexity and structure in the
So far, so good - not too many people would argue with the idea that wines
from the France have a different character than those from
But it's when you ask for a more specific definition of terroir that ideas
start to diverge. Many people think that the word terroir, which has no
exact English translation (the closest term would be "territory"
or AVA), refers to
the type of soil present in a particular vineyard. They would therefore
assert that grapes grown in a clay sedimentary soil, for example, have a different
character than those grown in a volcanic soil. In the Dundee Hills, for example, winemakers will swear that
it's the particular type of black silt loam of volcanic soil, that give the wines their characteristic
complexity and aromatics. It's what the French call the "gout du terroir" (the taste of
the terroir). And indeed, when you taste the wines, you'd swear it were
true. But no scientific test to date has been able to establish any direct
relationship between the soil type and the character of the wines made from
grapes grown in that soil. One of the mysteries of wine perhaps?
Learn more about Terroir.