Terroir – A Sense of Place

Terroir is a French term, which can literally be translated as “a sense of place.” The word itself is from terre, the French word for “earth”.

The French term of terroir takes into account all of the environmental conditions which influence the growth of the vine and therefore, the composition of the grape itself. The terroir is the coming together of the climate, the soil, and the surrounding landscape. It is the combination of an infinite number of factors: temperatures by night and by day, rainfall distribution, slope, elevation, hours of sunlight, the make-up of the soil (flinty, sandy, gravelly, loamy) and drainage, to name a few. All these factors interact with each other to form, in each part of a vineyard, a quite specific and unique terroir.

In winemaking, the concept of terroir as a way of describing the distinctions of a place that influence the wine crafted from that vineyard’s grapes. In my years of winemaking in different parts of Australia, the grape variety may be the same, but each vineyard site has it’s own distinctive characteristics which has a profound effect on the characteristics of the final wine made from that grape variety. The terroir plays a major role in influencing the flavour of a grape, and the flavours and structures of the final wine.

The terroir is why many wines that are produced from the same grape in different parts of the same region, in the same state, across a country and around the world, don’t taste anything like one another.

This is often the reason why, when you read a wine tasting note, that terroir is often described in some detail, with details about the type of soil, the depth, the slope, the rainfall patterns, and the weather conditions during the year. Terroir alone does not make the final wine though, and it’s how the wine is made that also influences the final wine style and this also adds another layer of uniqueness to the wine as every winemaker makes wine differently.

Terroir can seem to be a complex concept at first, but in the end, it’s really quite a simple concept. It’s the site itself, the sense of place that it brings to a wine and forms part of it’s story. The best way to learn about it is to get tasting! One of the best ways is to seek out and taste single vineyard wines as these will be the easiest to learn about terroir as the wine is made from grapes grown in just one place.