Terroir (tare-wha) from the French word Terre meaning “Land” is something many of us have heard during wine tastings, social events and diners. But what does it actually mean?
Terroir is defined as “the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop’s epigenetic qualities, when the crop is grown in a specific habitat. Collectively, these environmental characteristics are said to have a character; terroir refers to this character.” – Stephen Tanzer
Basically (and I use that word very loosely, because there is nothing basic about this at all) Terroir is the way in which most if not all of the elements of a vineyard come together to form a wine. This starts in the soil and goes all the way up to the altitude of where the vineyard is situated.
The Soil being chalk, granite, dense, loose or any other adjective that you could think of to describe the ground in which the vines grow has a very vital part to play in Terroir. It determines weather or not the vines will have water stored in the soil when it becomes dry (chalk) or heat is given off at night (granite). These greatly influence the way in which the grapes grow.
The placement of the vineyard has a part to play too. Is it on a North or South facing slope? Is it on evenly flat ground? If it is near a body of water or not. If the vineyard is near the ocean, cold winds will blow into the vineyard cooling the temperature of the vines and making a more acidic and less alcoholic wine. What are the plants native to the area surrounding and growing near and around the vineyard.
The climate also falls into terrior. If it’s wet, dry, hot, cold, humid, windy, cloudy or sunny. These elements play a huge part in the way that the grapes ripen and evidently the way that the wine develops.
Even things that you may never have though about play a role in the Terroir. How far from the equator is it? Wat is the average amount of sunlight it receives per day? What bacteria and pests is it subjected to? These all in some way form part of the terrior.
This is why vines grown in the same area or region can taste wildly different. Sometimes vines in the same vineyard may even differ drastically.
So now you hopefully know that Terroir, while overly or wrongly used in some instances, is a very important word when it comes to the world of wine.