What is terroir?

When reading about wine, you may wonder what the words ‘terroir-driven’ or ‘a sense of place’ mean. Read our blog to learn about the impact a terroir has on a wine.

Terroir is a French word meaning the natural environment in which a particular wine is produced.  It relates to a vineyards’ site which is defined by the composition of its soil, climate, elevation, sun exposure, and other characteristics that makes it unique. These characteristics will decide which grape variety is best suited to a vineyard and will affect the aromas and flavours of a wine. A same grape variety grown in a different terroir will produce a different wine.

Climate  

Warm climates produce grapes with higher sugar levels resulting in bolder wines with higher alcohol content. Cool climates on the other hands produce grapes with higher acid levels creating dryer, light-bodied and refreshing wines. Wind and rain also play a crucial role when growing grapes.

Early ripening grape such as Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc thrives in cooler climate while late ripening grape such as Cabernet Sauvignon will require more time to achieve optimum ripeness. Canopy management can be used to control how quickly a bunch of grapes ripe. This allow for a variety to thrive in various climate.

Soil

Soil will also impart flavours in a grape. Vines don’t do well on fertile soil, therefore the two main soils used in vine-growing are sand and clay. Sandy soils retain the heat and tend to produce aromatic wine with lower tannins. Clay soil, retaining water, are cooler and produce rich and deep wines.

Most vineyards sit on a mixture of soils which create a multitude of possibilities. Gravel, pebble and slate all have an impact on heat retention or reflection. The most famous combinations are clay/limestone soils called Marl where Pinot Noir offers great result in Burgundy and gravel/clay soil in Bordeaux where Cabernet Sauvignon thrives. Mineral compounds also affect the taste of a wine. Chalk produces a pure expression of Chardonnay and flinty Sauvignon Blanc while volcanic soils is becoming a trend for growing vines.

Topography

Grapes grown in higher altitude retain more acidity due to the difference of temperature between days and night. Outside altitude, topography also creates various microclimates which are very important when growing vines. Local wind and morning fog all have an impact on the final wine.

Sun exposure also has a direct impact on the level of ripeness a grape can achieve. Both sugar ripeness (level of acidity and sweetness) and phenolic ripeness (tannins) must be optimum for the harvest to take place.