Showcasing “Terroir”

By: Brian Hanna (Sommelier, ACSP)

Why can’t you buy a loaf of bread and tell where the wheat was grown, or savour a lemon and say instantly whether it comes from Spain, Mexico or Florida.

The ANSWER: This is what marks wine from almost any other agricultural product known to us. I suppose if you ate the said wine grapes raw, we probably couldn’t tell where they originated. Once, however, they’ve undergone the chemistry of fermentation, everything changes

Fermentation draws out the grape’s memory in which it once buried its roots, of the view across the clos or valley it had as it ripened and the ever-changing weather patterns it enjoyed or endured as the growing season unfolded. A rain-riddled September….the grapes will remember.   Were they grown in the gravel of Bordeaux’s Graves region or Prince Edward County’s limestone [argilo-calcaire]. Taste the difference.

All right then, we get the picture…but not the meaning. Do we have a word in English….”placehood” or “a sense of place”. The French do. They call it terroir.

British wine writer Andrew Jeffords puts it this way: “terroir provides the genes of a wine. Winemaking can modify or adapt that genetic pattern”.  Compare  Chardonnay  planted in Prince Edward County and the same varietal from Burgundy’s Meursault…same grape. The difference between them is terroir.

Yes, terroir is everywhere but are not all equal in the same good looks are distributed. I will never look like Pierce Brosnan.

What determines the best terroirs. There are a number of determinants. Let’s say chiefly: low yields [number of grapes per vine]  or conversely, cheap wines equal high yields.  Secondly…. TIME. It takes time for a terroir to reveal itself. Thirdly…..the skill of the winemaker. Every vintage presents itself with a distinctive set of climactic conditions. He or she must accept what nature has dealt them and not chemically interfere with the results. Terroir means no “corrected”, market-driven beautified wines by the bucket-load.

Sorry, I will rant no longer.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Prince Edward County will reveal itself in TIME, that owners and winemakers will best interpret the clay-loam- marl-limestone heritage that nature has provided them to reflect  our version of terroir.

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