What is Terroir and Why Does it Matter?

By Doug Fabbioli

 

What is Terroir and Why Does it Matter?

One of the nice things about social media is that we can have some thought-provoking discussions without having to be together in the same room. Yes, sometimes we get some trolls or ridiculous characters spouting off their opinions so they feel better, but when you know the people behind the words, this method of communication can work. We had a pretty good discussion the other week about terroir and whether or not Virginia wines show terroir.

 

First off, what is terroir? Well, literally it is the French word for region, and comes from the word for soil, terre. But in the wine and foodie world, it has come to mean “the sense of place.” Oysters are the ultimate example of sense of place as the water of each estuary is a little different and that shows itself in the oyster’s flavor. As for wine, the terroir is expressed by a consistency of style in wines made in the same region or from the same vineyard. I have heard terroir described as the combination of the ground, the grower and the grape.

 

Do we add the winemaker to that “ground, grower, and grape” definition of terroir? Do we push for consistency, drinkability, reflection of the vintage, or what can sell? As a winemaker, I want my wine to show more about the soil and the fruit than it does my involvement in making it. I like to think that the fruit quality will shine through the many choices a winemaker makes during the long process. One challenge winemakers run into, though, when trying to be “hands off” is vintage variance. With our changing climate we have had some widely varying growing seasons resulting in grapes and wines of different flavors and styles. In a year like 2018, for example, when the rains continued to come down all the way through harvest, many winemakers in the area chose not to make red wines at all, while others worked extra hard to make a wine consistent with their style and previous vintages. A heavier hand from the winemaker was needed in that vintage to make the wines work in the bottle. I feel the challenges we continue to face with vintage variance need to allow for the winemaker to do their job to make locally grown wines that sell.

 

Our region may still be too young to express true terroir. Our vineyards are still relatively young and our viticulturists are still learning what works best here. We will continue to grow and refine, and I think these answers will come over time. One thing is for sure, Virginia is very well suited to be a leader on the Atlantic coast for quality wines, and we have the passion and the drive to keep the industry growing. This is not an easy business, but striving for excellence with every wine and every vintage will continue our growth as a high-quality wine region, with an emerging and distinctive terroir.

 

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