Terroir: much discussed and often misunderstood, what exactly does terroir mean?

Terroir is a French term that describes the complex influence of origin, climate, soil, the regions culture and grape varieties on the unique character of a wine. This concept weaves natural elements such as temperature, rainfall and slope into a unique identity. The origin of the concept of terroir dates back to the 1920s and is closely linked to protected designations of origin. Find out all about terroir in this article!

Silikater Urgesteinsboden

Definition of terroir and the most important factors

Terroir is a French term that refers to the entirety of the natural conditions under which a wine is produced. It includes soil composition, climate, topography and biological factors such as flora and fauna. Another important factor is cultural differences, with different methods and practices followed in each region.


The individual factors of the terroir influence the wine in many different ways. For example, the soil can provide the amount of nutrients and water for the vines, the climate determines the ripening process of the grapes and the topography influences the sunlight and wind conditions. Training and pruning techniques in the respective region also play a role.

6 factors that make up the terroir

1. Soil
2. Climate
3. Topography
4. Biological factors
5. Traditions and practices
6. Cultural significance

Soil

The soil is an important factor for the flavour of the wine. It provides the vines with the nutrients they need to grow and develop. The type of soil can affect the acidity, alcohol content, tannins and flavours of the wine.

Climate

The climate is also an important factor in the flavour of the wine. It determines the amount of sunshine, rain and wind that the vines receive. The temperature influences the ripening process of the grapes, while the rainfall ensures the water supply to the vines.

Topography

The topography can affect the flavour of the wine by influencing the amount of sunlight and wind conditions. For example, vineyards on a south-facing slope may receive more sunlight than vineyards on a north-facing slope. This can result in a wine with more flavour.

Biological factors

Biological factors such as flora and fauna can also influence the flavour of the wine. For example, the presence of certain plants can influence the composition of the soil and thus affect the flavour of the wine.

Traditions and practices

The winemaking traditions of a country or region can affect the wine in different ways.What is the training system? What pruning techniques? For example, certain grape varieties or cultivation methods may be traditionally used in a region.This can result in wines that have a unique flavour and character.

Viticultural practices can also influence the flavour of the wine. For example, the harvest time, the type of vinification or the storage of the wine can have a major influence on the flavour of the wine.Cultural significance

Viticulture is deeply rooted in many cultures.It is not only an economic factor, but also an important part of the culture and lifestyle. In many regions, viticulture is an essential part of people's identity. In France, for example, viticulture is closely linked to French culture.
 

Terroir in der Südsteiermark

View on vineyards in South Styria, Austria

Development of the term "terroir"

Connections between these aspects were already recognised in the past, as documented in the writings of the naturalist Theophrastus (370-287 BC). In the Middle Ages, the Cistercian order in one European country experimented with the interplay of these elements. However, the term terroir was first coined in the late 1920s.

A pioneer of this concept was the wine producer Baron Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarié (1890-1967). In the 1920s, he described the suitable grape varieties for a red wine from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region based on the characteristic soil and climate and demarcated a specific area.

This was classified as an appellation in 1935. Another contribution came from Professor of Agriculture Joseph Capus (1868-1947), who is regarded as one of the pioneers of the appellation law and the precursor organisation of the INAO, together with the Baron.

Terroir is a protected designation of origin in France

The term terroir has been closely associated with the system of protected designations of origin and the concept of Grand Cru, a classification of wines, sites (vineyards) and wineries. However, terroir is not a clear, universally understood term that can be objectively defined by measurable criteria, and of course it has no legal meaning in wine law.

Even respected authors, journalists and wine producers interpret it differently.
On the one hand, terroir describes the totality of natural and additionally human-influenced cultural factors such as pruning, cultivation techniques or soil cultivation, which make up the unmistakable identity. This means that it is not only the specific environmental conditions in the vineyard that count, but also the knowledge and cultural heritage of the winegrower passed down through generations in relation to the work in the vineyard and cellar.

However, there are also views that the decisive components of the terroir are mainly determined by nature and can hardly or not at all be changed by man, not even by different methods.

The bottom line is that there is no scientific proof that terroir is more than a characteristic of sites or regions. The idea of terroir is sometimes regarded as a philosophical-mystical view with little real background. Nevertheless, there are endeavours outside the country of origin to understand the "terroir concept" beyond protected designations of origin. The term "regionality" was coined for this.



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