From Oenephile Tom Black
Some take their gold in minted mold
And some in harps thereafter
But give me mine in red, red wine
And keep the change in laughter
I wish I could take credit for that. I've written a limerick or two, but Olive Herford wrote it years ago.
Well, the Nashville Wine Auction was a smash. We grossed over $1,500,000 from all events. The proceeds go to cancer related charities, so I was very pleased with the results. Next year, the Grand Auction is June 25th so mark your calendars. Lafite, the king of wines, is coming so don't miss it!
So I had a couple of questions at the wine auction and I thought I'd share the answer to one with you. The question was, "What is terroir?" (pronounced ter-wahr) First, this is a French word which literally means "the place." Recently, the Holy Grail of wine making has been the idea that a wine should reflect the place it comes from. That means soil, climate, vines, etc. A better definition comes from Jeff Cox. He says, "The unique taste of a specific place as revealed in a glass of wine." The truth is that each vineyard has terroir. Each is a specific place that has specific soil, substructure, ecology, climate, history, etc. Terroir is not the soil. The soil is one part of terroir.
Terroir probably has its origins in the viticulture that was done by the monks in Burgundy in the middle ages. From the 5th to the 11th century, they began to delineate and codify the vineyards. Acre by acre they systematically tracked the microclimates of each vineyard site.
So why don't all wines have "terroir"? Because some producers are more interested in a specific taste or blend than they are a "taste of the place."
When you produce thousands of cases of wine, you own vineyards that have different climates and soil. Also, many wineries buy grapes from numerous locations so there can be no reflection of terroir. In addition, there is something called winemaker manipulation. Such things as blending, acidification, de-alcoholizing, filtering, finning, and chapitalization (the addition of sugar) can change the wine and destroy its unique "taste of the place."
Although it's not a popular thought among traditionalists, in the wine world I believe terroir is never completely expressed unless the winemaker is included in the definition. At some point winemakers must interfere in the process and so when they do you lose the pure expression of the place alone. It is the winemaker and his interference that helps the wine reflect the place the grapes have been grown.
Any discussion of terroir leads to the topic of organic or biodynamic farming. Both of these types of farming are considered low interference techniques. Organic farming speaks for itself. You farm only with organic materials. That includes horse manure and chicken dung.
Biodynamic farming is more of a cosmic philosophy. Rudolph Steiner developed it in the 1920's and didn't have grape farming in mind, but it has been applied to vineyards with a great deal of success. Its most common rules are plant, prune, fertilize, etc. with the cycles of the sun and moon. Also, recycling of everything in the vineyard is important. And, of course, only organic materials. Many of my winemaking friends call it hocus-pocus. Others swear by it.
One final thought on terroir is this — it is the basis for wine labeling and wine names in Europe. In America, we name wine for the grape varietal or we give it a commercial name if it's a blend (like conundrum). However, the Europeans believe the most accurate way to name a wine is from the place it is grown — the vineyard site. The grapes are known when you say the place because in Europe what grapes are grown there is dictated by law. Believe me, it's just as confusing for Europeans in America as it is for us over there.
As I've said before, asking me a question about wine is like getting a drink out of a fire hose. So you didn't want to know that much about terroir? Let me finish by telling you the story of the winemaker who was arrested before his flight to Paris because an over zealous security guard saw the word "terror" (he thought) on the wine makers laptop. Six hours later, he was released. Now, not even I can explain terroir for six hours.
There once was a wine bibber from Nashville
Who tasted all the wines made in Asheville
He said as he spit
I think I should quit
This is the winemaker from Trashville