If you happen to be associated in any way with the wine industry, you probably have come in contact with the word ‘terroir’. Generally, I knew the word and its basic understanding … or so I thought.
In normal terms, the word as I knew it stood for a type of geography and lay of the land, so to speak. I looked the word up and although I was right in the simplest sense, the word means much more than I realized. Merriam Webster calls it a ‘taste of the earth’. Simply stated, that’s about right. However, what does it really mean?
Well, you’re not going to get very many folks agreeing on the exact meaning but we’ll give it a try and maybe in the end, you’ll be a little wiser when you describe to your friends what it means. By the way, its origin is French and it’s pronounced ‘tear wahr’ as in going on a ‘tear’ and armies going to ‘war’.
Any in case, the word has gone through a transformation of sorts. Before the last decade or so, the word was given to mean more about wines or any beverage (or food for that matter) that had an earthy tone or taste to it. This could be good or bad depending on exactly what was being described. Recently though, it now pertains more to a descriptive nature regarding a region, terrain, weather or soil conditions and types.
For instance, a terroir’s region or terrain might be rocky, or high in elevation as compared with another terroir which may be in a valley with much fauna. A terroir’s weather could be hot and dry or cool and damp. If a ground composition is a sandy terroir, that would be in comparison to a clay-like terroir.
Think of a terroir as the filter for what a vine works through. A terroir’s soil along with the temperature and terrain can affect a wine grape and make it taste decidedly different than a same grape in an entirely different environment … or more accurately, a terroir.
Note that I’m no expert – just someone who has thoroughly researched wine barrels and with that exercise combined with being in the middle of wine country has brought many of these descriptions dealing with terroir, to the forefront.
So you see it’s a combination of factors that give each terroir its uniqueness or character.
The precise and distinctive locality of a region including the topography and weather of a place differentiating from other places, producing a certain quality and personality, if you will – is in a word: terroir.
Hopefully that didn’t confuse you, but in fact, now gives you a leg up on family, friends and cohorts.
We often use the term here in Paso Robles, because certainly we have a distinctive terroir what with a vibrant soil and inimitable terrain combined with a huge diurnal (the difference between high and low temps in a day – we’ll have to have a quick dissertation soon on that term too).
All these differing attributes collective with changing environs and climate make for distinguishing features in terroirs all across the world. And now you know the rest of the story … or most of it anyway.
Check out these books on terroirs of France and America:
Daryle W. Hier