Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wine Terminology: Terroir

In this world of grapegrowing, I hear and read new words relating to wine often and thought I'd share some wine terminology with you here periodically.  The next time you are out to dinner with friends, or winery-ing and get a chance to talk to the winemaker, or just want to practice rolling your 'r's in French, you can use it in context and sound like a legitimate wine-o (if you aren't one already).   I'm also taking this as an opportunity to brush up on my own wine terminology so I don't sound like an imbecile talking to my fellow grape nerds at the Annual Cold Climate Grape Growers Conference this weekend.   


Today's word is: Terroir
The phenetic spelling is tough to translate, but the best I can find is, ter-whar (with a delicate roll of the r's).  I love this word!  Isn't it fun to say?  Terr-wharrrr, Ter-wharrr, Terrrrr-wharrrrrrrr.....

It is a french word used to describe the natural environment and geographic characteristics in which particular varieties of grapes are grown and how they influence the wine made from those grapes. Examples of terroir might be soil type, sun exposure, weather, surrounding areas, and historical aspects of the land.  Being near an ocean, a lake, cow pasture, or raspberry farm are all attributes that might contribute to the wine.  Terroir is a sense of place and is just one of the factors that could affect the grapes and the flavors or characteristics they might acquire simply from the place they are grown. 

One night last year, I had gone to bed an hour or two before Aaron.  He told me in the morning that when he got into bed that night, I was stirred from a deep slumber and in my still half dreaming state asked him, "When we have kids, will we have diaper terroir?" 

These are the things I dream about.  Can you tell I was blending two major life events in our future?  Having children and making wine. Apparently my subconscious was concerned about the influence of diapers on our grapegrowing and winemaking.  Even though that doesn't necessarily fall into the characteristics of the land, but I was on the right track.  Although I have to say I am impressed with myself for managing to blurt out a french word in my half-dreaming state of mind. 

For the record, when we do have kids, we plan to keep the diapers airlocked and at least 300 ft from the grapevines.  Don't mean to scare you off from that little antecdote!  Just a weird dream! 

The central idea behind terroir is to convey that a wine can't simply be reproduced in a different region just by planting the same grapes and pruning it the same way.  The place in which it is grown plays a significant role.  That nature vs. nurture debate works for grapes too.

For example, when we went wine tasting in Long Island last June, where they grow vinifera grapes, we learned that a Merlot in New York tasted completely different than the Merlots we were more familiar with in California.  New York has cooler temperature, different soil, and prior to the 1970s, much of the land was used for potato farming.  Very different terroir than California.  Of course, the way the wine is made plays a role as well. 

And that, my friends, is terroir.  I'll post about the exciting Grapegrowers Roundtable and our weekend in a convention room full of grape nerds at the end of the weekend.  Can't wait!