Every winemaker knows that great wines are made in the vineyard, and finished in the cellar. Great and quality wines can only be made from quality grapes. So, what is it that gives the wine its unique characteristic?

The answer lies in an old French concept terroir.

The word itself comes from the French word “terre” which means earth, soil; but the whole concept has a much broader meaning. Terroir stands for all of the “environmental conditions” such as soil, climate, terrain, and biodiversity of a specific region – as well as local winegrowing tradition and culture – which gives wine its unique flavor and aroma.

soil_terroirPhoto (Domain Saladin): Terroirs

Soil and weather have the biggest impact on the grapevine growth and therefore on the quality and quantity of grapes. The best grapes thrive best on the “worst” soil because grapevine’s roots are forced to seek for nutrients. A shortage of water represents a very stressful situation for the grapevines and forces them to develop the grapes, not the green parts, which results in smaller berries that carry the full flavor.

Since the environmental conditions cannot be changed without making an impact on the environment (which is usually negative), it’s necessary for the winegrowers to know how to adjust the architecture of the vineyard and which agro-technical work needs to be done to help grapevines develop quality grapes. Also, the wine-making practice has to take in account the specific characteristics of the vineyard property, so that the wine will express the terroir in the largest extent possible.

different terroirPhoto (Grape 1368): Reign of Terroir

The latest research has shown that the fruitiness of the wine does not come from the fruit itself, but from the yeast. Each region has its own unique microbes that live on the skin of the grape and make the “terroir” of the wine. That discovery increases the importance of preserving the local environment and the biodiversity of the vineyard – because biodiversity allows organic development of the microorganisms. In regard to this, also the amount of spraying effects on the development of the yeast, especially synthetic fungicides, have a big negative impact on the microbes, and therefore on the fermentation of the wine.

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Considering all those factors, no wonder that more and more winegrowers are deciding for conversion into organic and/or biodynamic grape production. As this is the only way to produce high quality grapes with natural yeast and low pesticide residues, necessary for the wines with a full flavor of the specific terroir.

Do you think that organic wines have more “earthy” taste than conventional ones? Post in a comment below.

Sources:
Dirty Little Secret about the Soil and Terroir of Bordeaux; The wine cellar insider 
The Impact of Terroir; New Bordeaux (by Jane Anson)
Scientists Believe They’ve Figured Out Exactly What Gives Wine Its Terroir; by Chris Crowley, Grub Street