Sunday, April 10, 2011

Terroir (not the yappy dog)

I have discovered now why I love the grape so much - it's a headstrong, stubborn little thing, best when grown in the worst conditions. Before I get into that, let me clear up a misconception about the word, "terroir". If you are like me (and most), you think it is synonymous with soil. While soil is a part of it, it is nothing near the all of it. Oxford defines terroir as "for the total natural environment of any viticulture site". It is a French term with no English equivalent (sounds like a dare). It includes climate (and microclimates), sun, wind, temperatures, water and, finally, soil.
Nearly all grapes are grown within 30 and 50 degrees, either way, of the equator. For the most part, they need moderately temperate regions with a long, warm period of good weather to help them develop. The size and amount of leaves that grow on the vine play a part as well - too many keeps the sun from shining on the grapes; not enough allows too much sun to shine on the grapes, turning them into raisins (which is good for some wines, yes, but from time on the vines , not from sunburn).
Now here is what I like best about the grape - what is great for them are conditions that are challenging. When the vine has to work to grow, the plants have to concentrate their efforts (and sugars) to make a limited amount of grapes. Think survival of the fittest. While they cannot see frost late Spring or early Fall, they do not do well after a warm, wimpy winter. Irrigation.....not for this fruit; it wants to work for its water. As for soil, what else can you think of that grows well in chalk , volcanic ash, stones, granite, sea fossils or clay?
Now that I have a newfound respect for the fruit, I will be sure to tip my hat to my next glass of wine.
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