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Tell me about Terroir

Burgundy

Question from Anna: I have recently started getting into French wine and hear the term Terroir used a lot. After hours of googling I still can’t seem to figure out what exactly it means. Can you simplify it for me?

In a nut shell: A French wine producer in Bordeaux described it to me as, ‘a combination of climate, soil, terrain and the work of the winemaker which together produces a wine unique to only one vineyard.’

In a clam shell: The term ‘Terroir’ (pronounced tare-wah), which literally means ‘a sense of place’, is thrown around in France like croissants and baguettes but has no single equivalent word in English and hence the confusion.

Terroir is a combination of climate (temperature, rain, sun), soil, terrain (meaning the elevation and slant of the hill) and the unique work of the winemarker that makes a wine from one particular plot of land taste totally different to the wine from another particular plot of land an acre away. I’m not even kidding, the soil and microclimates in the famous winemaking regions of France (partially Burgundy and Bordeaux) and many other regions around the world have such different conditions from one vineyard to the next that the wine of the same grape can taste entirely different if it’s come from the next door neighbour’s plot. If you’re fascinated by this (I am – Mother Nature and her crazy ways) you can read a little more about microclimates and soil here.

The work of the winemaker (aka human intervention) will happen throughout the entire winemaking process – in the pruning of the vines, picking of the grapes, fermentation, maturation, bottling – you name it. Techniques from one winemaker to the next can be wildly different and can make two wines of the same grape, from the same region and same vintage (year that the grapes were picked) taste totally different.

Terroir, my friends, is one of the reasons why wine is so damn exciting! Mother Nature (with a little help from us mere mortals) can turn a measly grape into a tangible snap shot of time and place to be enjoyed and reminisced upon by everyone, everywhere.

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