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 the terroir can have on a wine.

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


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

Early ripening grapes, such as Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, thrive in cooler climates, while late ripening grapes 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 ripen. This allows for a particular varietal to thrive in various climates.


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 wines with lower tannins. Clay soils which retain water are generally 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 can achieve great results in Burgundy, and gravel/clay soils 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 are increasingly sought-after for growing vines.


Grapes grown at higher altitude retain more acidity due to the difference in temperature between day 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.