Monthly Archives: November 2013


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.

The large rolling hills on the Croatian peninsula of Istria in the Northern Adriatic Sea, offer a unique terroir for wine making.

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.


A mile up elevation-wise in the far northern reaches of Argentina, lies the Calchaquí Valley with a particular climate that helps to produce great wines from its distinctive terroir.

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:

Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines

American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields

Daryle W. Hier

Wine Barrel History

Since our business is the beautification of old, used wine barrels, I thought it would be interesting to know some history on just how, when and where the old wooden wine casks started.

Amphora was used for wine before wooden cask came along.

Early accounts show there is not an exact time the wooden barrel began to be used but history indicates that it goes back to the era of the Roman Empire.  Before that time, the common container for storage, fermentation and aging was the Amphora.  The Amphora dates back to the Lithos’ (new stone-age) era and were ceramic vases of various sizes, with handles on a narrow neck which stood about two to four feet from the floor usually next to a table.  Larger Amphoras could hold about 100 pounds of liquid, usually wine.  Sealed with pine resin, they were commonly painted with beautiful colors, sometimes by famous artists and painters. The vessels were generally owned by the elite.

History reads that Herodotus used palm-wood casks to ship Armenian wine to Babylon in Mesopotamia but the barrel as we know it today was most likely developed by the Celts. Their technique of bending planks through heating, in the process of making hulls for boats, evolved into a method of building wooden barrels.  It seems the shape of the barrel, a cylinder, fat in the center and drawn in on the ends with flat top and bottom aided in moving heavy items due to leverage.

18th Century cooperage

Wooden barrels for wine making are made of either French common oak, White oak or American white oak.  Generally there are two sizes:  “Bordeaux type “at 59 US gallons (225 liters) and “Cognac type” at 79 US gallons (300 liters).  The maker of wooden barrels is called a cooper and the plant is called a cooperage.

The history of the wooden barrel seems to be based on transportation; however, the primary importance of the cask today is fermentation, aging and storage.  Vanilla and wood tannins from the oak conjure up flavor for the wine.  Aging time in the barrel is very important; the maturity for different wines can be as much as several years depending on the winemaker and varietal of grape.

When the aging process is complete, grapes are processed and wine is bottled, leaving empty barrels which hopefully are at there end.  Paso Wine Barrels will then rescue Winebarrel-adjfireplant-info_bthem and craftily process each entire cask into a beautiful piece of furniture to be enjoyed for years to come.  We hope you have enjoyed this piece of barrel history.  Save the barrels and …

…Salootie Patootie

Ron Hier