Is Terroir Losing Its Identity?

It has been a while since my last blog, and I would like to thank everyone who read it.  Hopefully it gave you something to ponder that was worthwhile. Thanks!

I’d now like to discuss something that’s been on my mind for some time, and that is Terroir and the misusage of that word by the “New Generation” wine drinker…

I have the privilege of tasting new wines at least once a week, and about once a week my colleagues and I have an argument as to whether or not terroir exists.  At a seminar I recently attended, a well respected winemaker made a bold statement that made me quite uneasy. She said, “Terroir, which some call dirt, barnyard, haystack or earthy, does not come from the vineyard(s) but instead from brettanomyces.”  Brettanomyces is a yeast strand commonly associated with the ‘horse sweat’ smell found in some beers and wines.

The comment made by the winemaker was disconcerting for a couple of reasons; first, this idea goes against everything that I have been taught up to this point; second, when did terroir become associated with dirt?

To better understand what I am trying to get at, Terroir has to be simplified for those who haven’t heard the term or have heard it used incorrectly.  Terroir is an all encompassing word that defines EVERYTHING that is wine.  As defined by the Webster’s Dictionary terroir is, “The complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. • (also goût de terroir |goō də|) the characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced.”  As far as I know, no one can taste climate or topography, not yet at least.

The Webster’s definition is a good definition but still doesn’t achieve the allure that the word Terroir has in the wine community.  Terroir is more than just climate, topography and soil, it is also the way the grapes were harvested, the barrels used to age the wine, and more.  So for anyone to say that Terroir is dirt or barnyard, especially a winemaker, is feeding into an ignorance that is extremely prevalent in the wine business.  If a winemaker is misusing terroir and guiding others to misuse it, how far up and down the chain or out into the world does it go? This is where I come in.

I believe that time begets knowledge.  Since wine has been a key part of the American lifestyle for so long one could assume that knowledge of wine has  grown over the years.   Based  on what this winemaker said, it is hard to see the growth, but hopefully this will be an anomaly in my career.  Hopefully in the years to come the “New Generation” wine drinker, using their basis of knowledge (twitter, facebook, etc.), will catch themselves before they misuse Terroir.

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