Terroir: How Our Earth Affects Your Favorite Wines

by Daniel Frigeri

Wine is as much an agricultural good as any other food and beverage we enjoy throughout the year. There are different growing seasons, crop varieties, farming techniques, and many other factors that make a certain grape flourish on the vine and, eventually, in the bottle. Let’s focus more specifically on what this fancy term Terroir (“tare WAHr”) really means for the wine world. Terroir is how the climate, soil, terrain (topography), and tradition affect the taste of wine. It is basically the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced. The French word terroir directly translates to “soil, land”.

Climate

The weather surrounding vines plays a huge role in grape development and which style will be made from them. There are cooler and warmer climates. Cooler climate grapes include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir which ripen slower and produce less sugar and retain more acidity. Warmer climate grapes include Syrah, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Sauvignon which have more sugars and result in higher ABV wines.

Cooler climate regions – Michigan, Poland, Finger Lakes, Santa Barbera

Warmer climate regions – Australia, Argentina, Southern France

Soil

There are hundreds of different types of soil, minerals, and rock embedded in vineyards throughout the world. There isn’t exactly scientific proof that these elements directly affect the flavor of wine but there are characteristics that are discernable from soil to soil. For instance, from House of Wine, “The depth and water holding capacity, surface structure, chemical and microbiological composition all can increase or decrease wine intensity and concentration, complexity and balance”.

Popular soils around the world – Clay, Sand, Volcanic, Silt, Loam

Terrain

The terrain of a region includes how certain geographical formations (mountains, rivers, valleys), altitude, plants, and large bodies of water affect grapes.

Water – In the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbra, there are two mountain ranges that surround the region with a small opening that faces the ocean. This allows a steady, cool breeze that envelopes the grapes allowing certain cool-climate grapes to grow exceptionally well. Grapes growing around Seneca Lake in New York also benefit from the lake’s ability to keep the grapes cool during the summer months due to its natural depth.

Hills – Mendoza, Argentina, and Hermitage in the Rhone Valley have vineyards that grow on hillsides allowing the grapes access to hot sun during the day and cool air during the nights.

Anything and everything (even the microbial bacteria found in the air) that is naturally occurring around a vineyard can be considered the terroir of a region which is the most important factor any winemaker or vineyard owner considers before growing grapes. Traveling to these major wine-growing regions with terroir in mind gives you a huge advantage in wine understanding down the road. It just makes sense; certain wines enjoy certain regions of the world and when you drink these wines, you’ll be able to better narrow down where they were grown. Get a bottle from 5 different places and try it!



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