Vol. 1 No. 16…terroir revisited…already???

TB is always looking for ideas and sometimes those ideas come from readers. This time, it was questioning my contention that terroir doesn’t pertain to an area, say, like Lodi. Here is my answer, and as always the teacher (question answerer?), if given time, learns more than the questioner. If not learns, then at least solidifies the thinking. Thanks Stepehen, here is the response sent to him:
Thank you for your comments on terroir. I will clarify in the next issue. However, just as there are micro-climes within even a relatively small area ¬†– in the half mile drive up to where I lived in Orinda, the temperature could differ by as much as five degrees. Is Napa Valley the right area for growing cabernet? Yes. Pinot Noir? No. Chard? Yes and no. Thus the terroir differs even within the valley, especially the valley floor and the hillsides. This is not as much of an issue in either Bordeaux or Burgundy for making good wines but, as Karen MacNeil writes in The Wine Bible: “Given the vast and variable climatic and geologic forces that must come together to make a wine what it is, why is it that so many Bordeaux are considered great? When you ask Bordelais winemakers that question, chances are they will answer with a single word: terroir. The most renowned wines…are said to be wines of terroir: that is, they derive their characters from singular plots of land.”¬†
Lodi, my friend, does not have terroir…only perhaps in the sense that, say, all red wines from Calaveras County finish with a slight bitter aftertaste which I don’t find appealing…perhaps it is gold in the soil? Monterey County red wines often exhibit a ‘bell pepper nose’ which I also find unappealing. Thus the terroir does not suit these grapes.
We live in an age of engineering: financial, chemical, etc. A grower can take a sample of his wine to a lab in Napa and they will analyse it and tell him what he needs to do to turn it into a 90 point wine! Helen Turley produces perhaps the most expensive single vineyard zinfandel’s on the planet. Rave reviews? At first I thought it was my taste-buds, then I read a description by a wine critic that resonated: “chemical soup”.
Is there anything wrong with ‘creating’ a wine of quality? No, a person who invests their money and labor (we’re talking the small family owned vineyards here), in trying to make more from their labor? Most certainly not, but when the price escalates based on those high ratings it penalizes the producer of solid quality wines, and why? Nothing, or very little that the rating chaser did has earned those marks. Likewise, many of those producers, simply are not worth the money but are a kind of parasite on the rating issuer and once it starts, the ‘sold out’ mailing lists perpetuate the myth. This is what Jancis Robinson was referring to when she spoke in her blog of faux collectors.
Now, however, the wine-buying public seems to be learning: according to a California trade publication/blog which is chock-full of information on all aspects of wine (www.wineindustryinsight.com), two trends are present among wine buyers: the price increases from a 90+ rating are dissipating as either people are deluged with these wines or simply are finding their own choices, which TB of course, recommends they do; and the fast growing segment of wine buyers is no longer the $10 and under range, but the $10-20 range, and to a lesser extent, the next layer above that, while the high end is stagnant.
Perhaps consumers are finally coming to realize that they are their own best wine critic…at least you know what you are looking for, no?
TB
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