Terroir is a french word that pops up a lot in wine jargon, wine conversations and wine literature. What does it mean however or does it mean anything at all.
The idea of terroir comes from Burgndy and implies a wine should be an expression of the site it derives from. In general, the soil, the climate, the exposition, the fauna and flora in the vicinity etc can all play a role in defining terroir in a wine. In an ideal world, the vine grows, produces grapes that get ripe, are harvested then pressed and from the juice throught the ferementation process a wine emerges.
In an ideal world this would be perfect and this is an image producers like to project about winemaking and also something many wine drinkers like to be believe in.
Wine however is a man made product. Man decides where the vines are planted, which types of grapes are planted, how they are reared, when they are harvested, if the fermentatation is natural or with cultivated yeast. The natural tendency of grape juice is to become vinegar, a wine maker has to prevent this happening. So how does all this interference play into the terroir idea.
In the past a lot was not known about the wine making process from the vines interaction with soil to the ferementation process. Terroir was the answer. As science helps us understand more and more the processes, a lot of terrior notions are being debunked.
I have always liked the idea of terroir and have used the word a lot. However the more I learn about the wine making process the more I come to the realisation, terroir is nothing without man and I should be less liberal with its usage.
If we give 10 cooks the same ingredients and say cook a Coq au Vin, we will have ten different dishes although the ingredient were the same. Similiarly if 10 producers make wine within close vicinity of one another, then the wines produced should be quite similair to one another. This is very rarely the case.
Terroir has and I doubt will never be proven to exist. It is a fascinating concept and an over-used word. It is a philosophy that drives many wine producers. Terroir is a great sales arguement. Terroir ultimately can be anything and everything we want it to be.