Last week, Greg posted a spot-on treatise on the Terroir debate.
Between Greg and the readers who commented, there was enough meat in their words to satisfy those seeking the Executive Summary and those hoping to take a peek behind the curtain.
Greg's comments reminded me of the wineanorak, Jamie Goode's “Terroir” chapter in his book “The Science of Wine.” Goode dedicates the entire second chapter (which follows ‘The biology of the grape vine) to the Terroir debate. If a respected wine journalist is going to commit an entire chapter that early, front and center, in a book about Wine Science, then we must realize that this ethereal thing we call Terroir is and will always be up for debate.
Terroir is religion for some and bunk to others. The notions of Terroir are deep rooted, no pun intended, shunned by those who don't have it and celebrated by those who do. But the comments regarding winemaking styles having an impact on the eventual representations of said dogma are true. It is a constant debate in these parts of California as to whether Terroir exists. Nature's forces will never allow two wines from two different parts of the globe, even if they are from the same grape vine lineage, to taste the same. However, the goal is that the man made impact in the vineyard and in the cellar respects his or her natural surroundings. That being the hopeful representation of the winemaker's motives, the conversation ensues amongst us whether or not one, five or twenty-five wines that are produced from the same vineyard will reflect the essence of that vineyard. We hope so, but….
When a winemaker harvests grapes with a 30% sugar to water ratio and places those grapes in a fermentation tank with the intention to bleed off (what the French call ‘saigner') the juice that was created naturally from the sorting, de-stemming and transferring processes before the ‘cold soak' (the pre-fermentation maceration that allows the grape juice to extract non-alcoholic, color concentration along with textual and aromatic components), how much of the vineyard's character is going to remain in the wine? Wait, we're not done. What usually follows this style of winemaking is the addition of pre-fabricated yeasts, water, tartaric acid and nutrients to promote a healthy fermentation. But is that really healthy – to attempt to put back everything that was taken out of the grape? This process is where the hand of the winemaker comes into play and knowing this, you ask, where's the Terroir? Where is the ‘sense of place' as Greg D. and Greg T. point out in their comments?
This begs another question, using Greg's example of North Coast Pinot Noir and its stylistic components - if a winemaker is stylistically apt to pursue, as Greg calls, a ‘low acid, fruit bomb' Pinot Noir does placing a vineyard designation on the label mean anything anymore? If one is fortunate to source fruit from some of the storied vineyards in Sonoma County are they just using the vineyard as a marketing tool? Probably so. And if you, the consumers, are fortunate enough to taste a number of the same wines made from the vineyard designated, it will be up to you to decide which wines you appreciate, but will you ever really know, because of different winemaking styles, the sense of place that the vineyard is offering? Probably not. And that is a sad state of affairs if you believe that a wine could be marketed in such a way to promote itself through association. So now the debate comes full circle to some comments I made on this blog back in April regarding the disclosure of winemaking techniques.
As Sir Walter Scott said: “What a tangled web we weave, when first we [practice] to deceive.”
Similar to Greg, I started out one way and finished another. But in truth, that is the beauty of wine. We will all share our own opinions sometimes vehemently, but the truth is in the palate of the beholder. Drink well and enjoy.
Here's a quick addition to this post that is quite interesting and falls in line with this debate. In yesterday's Wine Business e-mail newsletter they reported on Wine Intelligence's new research that queried wine drinking consumers about their familiarity with worldwide wine producing regions. Some of the results are startling. With only 31% and 29% of American drinkers aware of French wine regions Cotes du Rhone and the Loire, how is it possible that the balance would ever know the Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc “terroirs” of said regions, even if they put it in their mouth?!? My favorite tidbit from the report asked consumers to write the first thing that came to mind when they saw the name of a wine region. “When Marlborough was shown, the most popular response was “cigarettes”; for Chianti, the film Silence of the Lambs was one of the most frequently repeated [responses].” Egad.
Larkmead Vineyards in Napa Valley. Dan has an MBA from New York University and worked as an Ad Exec in New York for several years, before switching it up and trading his suit for a move out west