"Wine is sunlight, held together by water." - Galileo
Terroir a Myth?
Guess it matters who you talk to, but terroir is still a main focal point in the wine industry. Originating from the French word that means "sense of place," some think it should stay that way and not be used to describe other New World regions. Others find the word controversial because soil doesn't have a strong correlation to the actual taste of wine. Either way, wine terroirs are fascinating areas of the world that balance its natural environment to produce different varieties of wine. It's hard to deny that there aren't flavor constructs that embody a wine's region and can't be replicated elsewhere.
Fight Against Blight
Attributing a bottle of wine with a specific location isn't new. Ancient Greeks brandished a seal of approval on wines originating from reputable wine regions. But the rise in the use of the word "terroir" is rooted in devastation.
The Great French Wine Blight in the mid-19th century ravaged 75% of the vineyards in France. An aphid-like insect poisoned the grapevines and the best solution was to combine pest-resistant rootstock from America with French vines. This amalgamation created a hybrid root that could withstand another disaster. Ironically, the pest originated from the United States.
France's wine reputation was in jeopardy. Would French wines not taste French anymore? How would American roots impact the flavor, yield, and purity of French wines? An identity crisis was in effect.
The word "terroir" began to gain in popularity mainly to comfort the public. It wasn't the French grapevines that produced the unique flavors of France, it was the soil, climate, and terrain. New stock vines would still produce French wines that were true to their origins because they were still planted in the same, unmatched location. Winemakers could feel solace and pride for their region again.
“The notion of terroir has been with us for more than 1,000 years.” - Chris Howell, Cain Vineyard
Sometimes it's confusing to distinguish what the difference is between terroirs and regions because they are used in the same context to describe wine. A region can have a particular terroir that makes it special to the production of wine, but a region can have multiple terroirs.
The Old World and New World wine regions clash when it comes to terroirs. With historical traditions in making wine comes with a sense of pride and purity about their process that differentiates them from the new methods of winemaking. Thousands of years of research and discovery hsa gone into distinguishing Old World locations ideal for vineyards. Some argue that it is impossible to claim a terroir in the U.S. without a similar track record of specific wine characteristics that embody a particular region. Transplanting vines and blending breeds.
Take, for instance, Burgundy. The expectation that a winemaker in that region embodies the essence of its wine terroir is engrained in their culture and featured on French wine labels as a selling point. But in Mark Matthews book, Terroir and Other Myths of Winegrowing, he mentions that there is little to no evidence that molecules in the soil impact the flavor of a berry. And little interaction between the soil and grapevine that would create a uniqueness. Whether subconscious or not, hearing a wine's origins influences a purchase and what someone thinks of the wine.
Although this might water down your perception of a bottle of wine from a particular region, it shouldn't. It simply highlights how we should consider a more inclusive approach to fine wine that's outside of the constructs of a terroir. Different soil types across the world can produce delicious wines.
Let your palate do the hard work and tell you what you like and don't like.