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What is Terroir?

What is Terroir?

September 08, 2016

It’s a good question. A French word and has been part and parcel of their agriculture for generations, not just in wine. There’s no direct translation into English; linguistically or culturally. It also means different things to different people, however it could be argued that its spiritual home is Burgundy.

Here Chardonnay and Pinot Noir - the great Burgundian varieties - are super sensitive to the soil, the aspect, the micro climate...everything really. They express the ‘place’ like no other grapes. It is a very romanticised view of growing grapes, but you can really tell. Honestly, with minimal interference from the winemaker, crafting the wines in the exact same way, from the exact same grape variety - vines planted 2km or 2 metres apart can produce wines that taste utterly and completely different. It is truly remarkable.

The body, the flavours, the richness, the power, the silky tannins, the whole character of the wine, it’s personality can alter from one vineyard to the next; with only a path or a line on the map between them.

Think of it like siblings or twins separated at birth. Made from the same stuff, but in their different environments they develop their own distinctive characters.

So what happens when you export this idea of Terroir to the New World? To the US, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand? There’s no history of quality wine production here, no pre-existing vineyards or wine regions, no rules. People have the freedom to make what they want, where they want....so they do.

Take New Zealand - a beautiful isolated countryside - new land to be explored by winemakers with a keen nose for the right Terroir. What then happens if you also apply Biodynamics (a sustainable, holistic approach to farming - think organic turned up to 11)?

This is exactly what Mike and Claudia Elze Weersing have done in Canterbury, South Island NZ. With years of experience behind them, they’ve set out to create what is widely regarded as some of the countries best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. How have they done it? You might be able to guess.....the right Terroir! Well to start with at least.

Tiny yields and production, from only 2.2 hectares of vines (the size of a small parking lot), with the ideal exposure, soils and micro climate in what is a baron landscape. Perfect for top quality wine.

It doesn’t end there though. In the winery Mike has used every technique in the book to make his wines sing of their ‘place’ and truly express their own character. To list a few.... hand destemming, a gravity fed winery, natural yeasts, tiny fermenters, hand and foot plunging, natural fermentation temperature control, use of mature oak and clay amphorae’s, bottling without filtration and fining - people just don’t do these things anymore! Each one carries a risk, but when done properly and by the right hands - the end results are outstanding. Purity bottled. My advice - Taste the Terroir!

Check them out at: www.pyramidvalley.co.nz

By Greg J. Roberts DipWSET

p.s if Pyramid valley was in Burgundy. let’s just say, you’ll probably need to double the price. or add another zero.