Terroir?!?


How should ‘terroir’ be defined in new world winemaking terminology? This is something that really has not been discussed much.

We historically talk about place, about microclimates and soils and temperature, about clonal materials used.

What about ‘winemaker intervention’ right from the get go?

Let me give you an example. When fruit comes in to many new world producers, the first thing that’s done is to sort the fruit. This is oftentimes done in a couple of stages. In its ‘simplest’ form, clusters are sorted on a sorting table and ‘underripe’ or ‘damaged’ clusters are discarded, along with MOG (materials other than grapes, including leaves, bugs, etc.). In many cases, a second stage is set up where the clusters are then destemmed and the grapes are looked up, and ‘imperfect’ ones are tossed. In the extremest of circumstances, and now showing up more an more in CA, optical sorting machines are set up to discard anything other than ‘perfect’ berries.

Many wine consumers yearn for yesteryear. They yearn for a time when grapes were picked at lower sugar levels, when natural acid levels were higher, and wines were not ‘over the top’. Guess what – there were no optical scanners then. There were not vibrating sorting tables then. Yes, perhaps some wineries hand sorted their clusters as they came in, but my guess is that many did not. And the wines turned out okay.

Just something to think about today. ‘Perfection’ is unattainable in our industry, as it is in almost everything in life. And I believe it’s our job to enjoy the ‘perfect imperfections’ in life that make things real, attainable, and enjoyable.

Cheers . . .

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2 comments on “Terroir?!?

  1. anthonut says:

    Interesting questions. In addition to new technology, there has been discussion of whether using native yeasts vs. commercial yeasts give a more accurate reflection of terroir. Have you ever done any native fermentations? Is that riskier when you share cellar space vs. having your own?

  2. Great questions indeed. I did do a few native ferments the very first year I made my own wines back in 2006. It was very late in harvest and the ferments got off to a happy and healthy start so I figured I’d just go for it.

    I have not done any native ferments since nor do I envision myself doing so again. It’s not that I ‘look down upon’ these ferments, but, at the end of the day, yeast have a job to do and I want my ferments to finish in a healthy manner. Commercially available yeast, which is simply similar strains that are isolated from specific ferments in specific cellars/regions/wineries and then grown up in labs, do the job that I want to do, and I’ve been happy with them for the most part.

    Native ferments can certainly be considered ‘riskier’ just in the sense that you’re never quite sure what specific strains they are and whether or not they are ‘strong enough’ to get the job done. It would be riskier if you were working in a custom crush facility with lots of different strains as well. And last but not least, if you work with different types of fruit and employ different techniques – cooler stainless ferments versus barrel ferments, for instance – a single strain may not work efficiently.

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