What is terroir? Does it really have the effect on wines that winemakers claim? As a boutique wine business, Simall Wines understands the value and importance of producing wines that reflect terroir.
In essence terroir is about how different patches of land produce very different wines. The terroir of a vineyard has an impact on the flavour and style of wine. In fact, its impact can be massive. Whilst the winemaker plays a role in expressing those characteristics, it is terroir that sets characteristics in the foundation of a wine. This is borne out when experienced wine drinkers identify some of a wine’s terroir characteristics by the aroma and taste when blind tasting wines! Test yourself next time you drink a wine with extensive terroir-related tasting notes (Do you know what to look for? Can you sense the key characteristics?)
Terroir is a French word with no direct English translation. It means the influence of external physical factors on a grapevine. These physical factors include
● soil type, including the micro-organisms that co-habitate there, and
● microclimate, including aspect, sunshine, temperature, rainfall, elevation and the topography of the surrounding land.
Terroir is particularly evident in single vineyard wines. You may have seen tasting notes about the vineyard the grapes came from, the soil of that vineyard, the growing conditions and so on, and then passed it off as ‘wanky-wine-waffle’. But these notes are important for understanding why a wine tastes the way it does.
Winemakers can definitely influence the expression of terroir in wine. For example, decisions during the growing and winemaking process can either lessen or increase the expression of terroir in the wine. These include decisions
● in the vineyard – pruning, irrigation and selecting time of harvest; and
● in the winery – the use of oak, cultured or ambient yeast, length of maceration and time in contact with lees, temperature during fermentation, as well as processes (such as micro-oxygenation, chaptalization, clarification/fining, and reverse osmosis).
Winemakers can work between the extremes of producing wine that is terroir-driven and focussed on expressing the unique aspects of a region’s terroir, or winemaking that is done without any consideration given to terroir. Unfortunately the importance of terroir is being over looked in new world winemaking as many big brand winemakers attempt to make consistent wine blends and styles to please customers, reflecting the commercial realities of running a business. The seasonal variation in climate can make this difficult but blending wines and grapes from different vineyards can help minimise these variations. The result is that many mass produced wines tend to lose their terroir characteristics.
That’s one reason why we love the boutiqueness of our Simall Wineworld and of many smaller wineries where terroir impacts tend to exhibit themselves. Wine is so much more than simply a drink – it’s that mysterious quality, its elusive complexity that makes it so fascinating. The impact of terroir makes wines interesting and delivers mystery and intrigue!