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What is “terroir?”

The term “terroir” (pronounced tair-WAH) is often used interchangeably with soil or climate when discussing the elements of wine-grape growing, but “terroir” is much more than just soil composition and/or weather.

“Terroir” is a French word, one for which we don’t have an exact translation in English, that describes a piece of land by taking into consideration its geography, soil, slope, elevation, weather conditions, farming techniques and more. It’s used to describe the specific characteristics of a vineyard’s location which, taken as a whole, have a profound impact on the wine grapes grown there. Sometimes, you hear it described as a “sense of place,” or how a wine can be a reflection of place, history and community.

The creation of American Viticultural Areas or AVAs reflects the importance of this concept, as most wine enthusiasts agree that the site where wine grapes are grown as well as the grower can impart profound characteristics upon the grape and wine that are unique to that particular appellation or even vineyard.

While the term “terroir” is French, there’s evidence that the concept dates back to Ancient Greece. Greeks would often stamp the ceramic vases they used to hold wine with a symbol that represented the area in which the wine was grown and produced, and some areas began to have reputations for quality and certain nuances in their wine.

Terroir can play an integral role in the characteristics, body and flavor of a wine, but it’s one of dozens of variables that factor into a great bottle of wine. Wine-grape growers have tremendous influence over how terroir is reflected in the grapes’ and wines’ overall personality. Pruning, irrigation, leaf thinning and when a grower chooses to harvest can all influence how place manifests itself in wine, further solidifying the concept that great wine begins in the vineyard.

Photo courtesy of Wine Institute of California and Paraiso Vineyards.

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Terrior plays an integral role in the characteristics of wine and can be affected by geography, soil, slope, elevation, weather conditions and farming techniques among many other things.


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