Terroir? New Study says "no"


(Jason Brandt Lewis) #1

From the drinks business: New Study Strengthens Case AGAINST Soil-Based Minerality


(Elwood) #2

Interesting. Thanks.


(Kaleo) #3

Thanks, Jason! This is a perfect example of the value CH’s Wine board lost.


(Caroline Freisen) #4

From the first paragraph of the article: “The findings emerged from the second part of a two-year research project, titled ‘Minerality in Wines‘, conducted by Spanish wine analysis company Excell Ibérica and Outlook Wine.”

To me, that says it all. Spanish wine makers are simply trying to capture a larger share of the non-fortified wines business of the world. All wine IS impacted by “terroir.” So is coffee, tea, and the flowers used in the haute perfume industry. In fact, there are no plants that are not impacted on by “terroir,” even when that term is not normally used for other-than-wine crops. In my many years of experience with wines, Spanish white wines (still, non-fortified) are arguably the most impacted on by terroir I’ve ever experienced in my life. But hey, it doesn’t cost a lot to publish such “studies,” and if it boosts their market share, well, buyer beware!


(John) #5

Hmm IDK when Greg Moore gives his schpiel I could swear I taste French schist. :grinning:


(Jason Brandt Lewis) #6

Caroline, I think it’s far too dismissive to “chalk” (no pun intended) it up to

After all, according to NPR, The Guardian (UK) and other sources, Spain saw a 22 percent increase in wine exports in 2014 over 2013, making it the world’s biggest wine exporter.

Let me, if I may, make a distinction here between perception and science. Have you read David Darlington’s book An Ideal Wine (published in 2011; ISBN 0061704237)? If you have, you’ll know I am a terroiriste and have been for the moment I could taste the difference between Château A and Château B in a blind tasting – probably around age 16, if not before. And, after 40+ years in the wine trade, as well as being a wine writer and professional wine judge, I “know” I still can taste differences, and I still believe in terroir. But there have been repeated studies (the above-referenced study is far from being the first!) that fail to show there is any “uptake” of minerality by the vines themselves. Look to Dr. Jamie Goode’s work, among others.

Remember for a moment that the French concept of terroir is NOT limited to “soil,” or the the earth specifically. Terroir is used to describe EVERYTHING that affects the vine/vineyard: soil, weather, altitude, exposure, and more . . . even the oak tree that casts its shadow over the vines at 3:00 pm each afternoon.¹ I agree 100 percent with that definition.

But nothing I have ever read on the subject – and, again, this latest study is simply that; the latest one – has ever demonstrated specific mineral uptake by grapevines.

As Peter Wasserman has said,

Ok it’s been “proven” again and again that we cannot find chemical with current analysis techniques that relate directly to type of soils and geologies. However I would like to state that 1) science evolves for example we could not see cancer cells in the 19th century even though cancer existed, 2) many tasters find similar characteristics in similar geological and soil situations, and 3) we underestimate the importance of microbiological entities in top soils which are part of the geology.

In other words, 1) eventually we may be able to detect something which the current state-of-the-art science is presently unable to; 2) clearly something is “in there”; and 3) maybe it’s not actual minerals, but something else.


¹ Forgive me for that – one of my former mentors used to say, "Just about the time I’ve decided that this is a Merlot with some Cabernet [Sauvignon] in it, and not a Cabernet with Merlot, Darryl Corti is telling me the name of the vineyard it came from, and how you can tell because there is a large oak tree that casts its shadow over the vineyard and . . . "


(Caroline Freisen) #7

What an interesting life you’ve managed to carve for yourself, Jason! Good on! I have loved wine for 60 plus years, and it’s had its interesting moments. But alas, being ancient of years, as I now am, and having my share of doctor appointments with those lab coated guys who tell me “One glass of wine a week, max!” I tend to turn my back on the whole wine scene these days. But I have had my glory days. I’ve spent most of my adult life around scientists and engineers and in medicine and such, and one thing I can state with absolute confidence: NO test tubes have taste buds or olfactory glands! Not a single one of them. :wine_glass:

I first became aware of how soil conditions can effect the flavor of plants way back during WWII when my grandfather patriotically planted a HUGE Victory garden. In time, he noticed that if he planted one particular vegetable on the north side of the garden instead of the south side, it had a much fuller flavor to it. I think it was string beans, but I wouldn’t take an oath on it. My god, that was over 70 years ago! We also had 3 huge apricot trees in the back yard, all of the same variety, but one of them had fruit far more luscious than the other two trees. Fertilizers and such didn’t help. My grandfather said it was the soil. I believed him.

In another thread on HO I’ve mentioned my horror experience with a Spanish white that my mother had rushed to the store and bought for me when I was making a veloute sauce for some fancy fish dish I was making for my dad. My mother knew more about quantum mechanics than she did about wines, which means she knew absolutely nothing! I think I asked her to pick up a Riesling, so she sought help from the counter boy and came home with what he had promised her was a true “Spanish Riesling.” LOL! Those grapes were grown in soil so chalky it choked you when you tried to inhale the aroma of the wine. Vile stuff!

Also in the 60s, we were living in Las Vegas. The Rat Pack years. My wine shop was just off the strip, and I would buy French wines by the mixed case, and (I hope I still remember their name accurately) the French bottler was Cruise Brothers. I would usually get a mix of Burgundies and Bordeaux and a few bottles of white. Usually heaviest on the Burgundies because I was cooking Beouf Burguignon and coq au van fairly often. But suddenly the Burgundies tasted more like California’s Gallo than anything grown and blended in Burgundy! So I took that bottle back. And then another and another until we came to a point where we were talking about me maybe not buying any more Burgundies from him. And then when I walked in one day, he said, “Hey! Have you heard the news?” Me: what news? “Well, the Cruise Brothers have been arrested in France for mislabeling their wine as Burgundies when they’re not, and they’re going to trial!” I was about to say something like, “See? I told you so!” when he said, “A major part of my warehouse business is supplying wines to most of the hotels on the strip, and what has me puzzled is why YOU are the only one in the whole city that noticed this? Not one single sommelier has said one word.” Then he smiled and asked, " Wanna start a new career?" It’s my “claim to fame” in the world of wine.

As for “mineral uptake” by vines (or any other plant’s root system) those root systems are roughly the equivalent of our digestive systems. And I firmly believe that a plant does NOT have to absorb the molecules of a mineral to have that mineral cast its shadow – sometimes a very heavy shadow – over the flavor of the plant. I think of minerals in the soil like they were a bouquet garni in a soup. When the soup is ready, you remove the entire bouquet garni and throw it away, but you cannot remove the flavor! Science is trying to duplicate a bunch of “human sensory abilities” in the laboratory, and making some remarkable progress in areas of sight and touch" but as far as I know, taste isn’t even on their radar yet. Pity!

Terroir lives!


#8

Jason, I’m a straight-up amateur hack (albeit one who really likes wine), and even I can taste a sense of place…by comparison, you should damned near be able to sketch the hillsides that they’re grown on…people think I’m a smartass because I can tell the difference between a California sparkler and French Champagne…but it’s just THERE.

(and Caroline, while I’ll give you that dry, chalky white wasn’t a good thing for your veloute – I adore a dry chalky white)


(Jason Brandt Lewis) #9

Both of you seem to be painting me into a camp to which I don’t belong . . . Je le répète: je l’aime terroir! (in other words, “don’t shoot the messenger”).

But on the other hand, I also believe in science . . . to a certain degree. So, I would ask you to remember several things:

  1. First and foremost, the term “terroir” is not limited to soil, but encompasses so much more! With that in mind, OF COURSE “Terroir Lives,” and no one has suggested it doesn’t!
  2. This study has only shown there is no uptake of minerals by the vines from the soil into the grapes. PERIOD. Nothing else. And this is exactly what other similar studies have shown.
  3. Nowhere in this or any other study has anyone suggested that unique places aren’t unique. In other words, if it’s not the minerals in the soil directly transferring into the grapes, it is something else – clearly something makes (e.g.) the Chardonnay grapes from Le Montrachet different from the Chardonnay grapes found just across the tractor trail in the Bâtard-Montrachet vineyard, even though the vines are the same age, let alone from a vineyard in Chablis or in the Russian River Valley. We ALL agree on that – as do winemakers the world over – it is merely that no one has yet been able to scientifically say for certain what that “something” is . . .

#10

I’m in your camp - I believe but have to wonder about the whole “soil composition” aspect.

Plants are plants. They require certain nutrients, are genetically “programmed” to function a certain way and to take up what they take up. So I’m not surprised that a grape vine grown in two different places end up with the same nutrient make up. That makes perfect sense to me.

Now how microbes, harvesting methods, sun levels, etc affect the harvest, get mixed in when being crushed, etc - that I can get behind.


#11

Nope, I understand that. Okay, it’s not the minerals…but it’s something tangible.


(Caroline Freisen) #12

Boy oh boy oh boy, do I ever wish there was a way to write with vocal inflection BECAUSE… my intent was to back up your remark that you’re a “terroir-ista.” And I got a BIG smile over that particular descriptive noun! I hadn’t seen it before, and if it’s your creation, good show!

Sooooo… The long and the short of it are that, as far as I can figure things out, we are both gob-smack on the same side!

Sorry about the misunderstanding.


(Jason Brandt Lewis) #13

No worries – I’m constantly getting in trouble over my use of italics and capitals because I’m stupid enough to TRY and write with vocal inflection! :open_mouth:

To give credit where credit is due, I believe that the expression terroiriste was the creation of Randall Grahm, he of Bonny Doon fame and someone I’ve known for a very, very long time (1974).