Terroir and Taste : the Elements of Terroir
Though you may think we are only concerned with the harvest of one particular crop, those who live in the Walla Walla and Columbia Valleys know that this is an incredible time of year. The entire landscape has changed from bright greens and cerulean blues to brilliant golds and cadmium yellows and the smell of toasted wheat fills the valley. Wheat harvest is the finale of an entire year’s work and commencement of the next; it is the time when farmers see the fruits of their labor and, for no-till farming, to play in the dirt.
Ahhhh dirt. It shapes the rolling hills of our valley, creates the nutrient-dense grains that provide food for far away parts of the world, and gives our grapes a taste that indescribable without the word terroir. What is terroir? This term we throw around so often in the wine industry can be quite confusing to those who don’t talk wine (or, commonly, coffee, cheese or beef) all day. Terroir (pronounced tair-wa) is “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate” according to the Oxford dictionary. It can also be referred to as goût de terroir or taste of the earth. The basic idea is that some regions – like the Walla Walla Valley or Columbia Valley AVAs – or vineyard plots have a quality that makes them special…so special that if you took the same grape variety, followed the same winegrowing practices, winemaker and techniques but grew it anywhere else in the world the wine would never taste quite the same.
Terroir is comprised of four main factors: climate, soil type, topography, and surrounding vegetation. The interaction of climate and terroir is generally broken down from the macroclimate of a larger area, down to the mesoclimate of a smaller subsection of that region and even to the individual microclimate of a particular vineyard or row or grapevines. The element of soil relates both to the composition and the intrinsic nature of thevineyard soils, such as fertility, drainage and ability to retain heat. Topography refers to the natural landscape features like mountains, valleys, and rivers, lakes, and streams which affect how the climate interacts with the region, and includes elements of aspect and altitude of the vineyard location.*
How does that affect Reininger wines? Chuck’s goal is to capture and enhance the essence of each vintage by exposing its terroir. That amazing, earthy, old-world French feel of our Reininger Syrahs, Merlots, and Carmeneres? There’s a whole lotta terroir coming forward, making them so unique and special. Chuck feels that you must always be aware of these factors when making wine. He says, “wine is a reflection of everything that’s happened to the grapes, a time capsule, I enjoy bringing out the flavors locked in the grapes and making them shine.”
In the next post, I will further discuss terroir’s influence on winemaking and affect on all of those delicious wines. See you soon!
*From the Oxford Companion to Wine, 2006