So what is terroir?

Good question…

There are, broadly speaking, two types of wines – industrially made, and authentically made. Wines that are manipulated to be easy to like – and wines that are unique and true to themselves. Think Kraft American slices vs. Humboldt Fog…. filet o’ fish vs ceviche…. Budweiser vs. Hill Farmstead. They clearly reflect different philosophies – strategies, if you will – one that swerves towards the lowest common denominator, and one that isn’t afraid to have an actual point of view and a sense of that fleeting somewhere-ness that says it wasn’t made in a factory.

So terroir wines are the latter. They aren’t made with pure profit or economies of scale as their driving factor (but at a certain point, both must be taken into account – this is a business after all.) They reflect where they come from, have a certain niche appeal, would rather be interesting than popular.

In contrast to spirits or beer, the wine market is much more fragmented – many small producers and very few big brands. That reflects the scale of the product, the fact that wine is an agricultural product so sensitive to its provenance, and, importantly, that we only get one shot at making wine per year and vintage variations are always going to be a variable that makes wine a constant shapeshifter. Winery size and production levels don’t have a whole lot to do with it – there are small wineries (who often charge an awful lot for their wines) that manipulate with a heavy hand, and large wineries that respect the grapes they’re given and still put out a consistently great product at a fair price.

So… why should you care? I admit, sometimes I want a $10 porch pounder rosé, and sometimes I want to have a deep moment with a pinot noir I can’t afford but bought anyway. I’m willing to be a champion of the latter to make sure the former doesn’t overtake and make things too homogenous, boring, expensive. Have a place for both in your repertoire, but make sure you pause to understand and appreciate when someone’s heart and soul has gone into a wine, when they are acting as a medium for the earth to whisper directly in your ear.

Terroir is a subject of ongoing debate, and it can get really geeky really fast.  If you’re newer to wine or don’t feel the need to get knee deep in semantics, simply don’t get caught up in the debate – just keep that concept of ‘somewhere-ness’ in the back of your mind, and ask yourself if the wine you’re drinking tastes like it was made in a factory or made in the field.

That being said, I imagine I’ll occasionally delve into the terroir debate here, not as a partisan (I think there’s a wide range of valid viewpoints) but rather as an observer and commentator trying to make some sense of it all. I’m happy to have some company if you want to join me on the journey down the rabbit hole, and later this week I’ll post a list of books that I’ve found to be interesting & helpful should you want to delve deeper.

Welcome to New World Terroir

I understand that some will scoff at the very name of this site, New World Terroir.

But so what if France has 400 some odd years on the US in winemaking? Mother nature does not have a subjective preference for one country or region over the other.

It’s all earth, each and every place has its own climate, soil, minerals. It’s the job of the humans who happen to tend to whatever grows there (and there is no natural wine….as Jamie Goode said – there are no bubbling brooks of Chablis spouting forth from the earth) to help define their winemaking tradition – to experiment in those regions that haven’t yet reached the precision of Burgundy – to actively seek the best expression of wine that their corner of the world can produce and find a place for wine in the everyday life of their citizens.

That is the task at hand in places like the US, New Zealand, Australia, South America, as well as newer regions in more established countries – to discover these noble sites and create a tradition of wine there (and it can be created) – rather than trying to copy what someone else has done. Great Burgundies can’t be made in New Zealand, but great New Zealand pinot noirs certainly can and are. Science and precedent help expedite the process, but there is – and really always will be since this is a moving target – a lot of work to be done, a lot of complex information to process.

If this is your first time here, I suggest you read about who I am and my thoughts on what terroir is and why you should know what it is at a basic level (simply = somewhere-ness.)

Keep coming back for regular updates on “this week in terroir”, profiles on wineries and people fighting the good fight, heads up on wines you should try, amazing places to visit or people to meet.  I welcome your feedback and look forward to sparking conversation, and doing my part to help explore and define terroir in the US, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina, and beyond….

Supporting the search for terroir & noble places in the new world of wine.