Terroir: Fact or Fiction?
(Reflection of Place)
What is Terroir (pronounced tehr/wahr)? Terroir is the notion that the growing site defines a wine's character.
Say 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:
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 Oregon. 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?