The Terroirista

By Tom Wark

Do you care if you wine comes from somewhere? Or do you just want to drink the stuff?

It you fall into the latter category you are likely to live a stress free wine life. However, if you are of the former ilk, well, youd best prepare to resign yourself to a life of searching, despair, and momentary lapses of reason when you stumble upon that rare revelatory discovery. Im here to make your journey easier. To help you cut the corner toward achieving those momentary lapses of reason.

Its tough being a terroirista.

The Terroirista. That shrinking brand of wine lover that believes a wine, at its best, ought to be a genuine reflection of the soil and climate its grapes were produced in. They drink far and wide, seeking out evidence that Russian River Valley Pinot Noir or St. Emilion or Barossa Valley Shiraz or even Napa Valley Cabernet ought to have similar character, one bottle to the next.

Eventually they start to question the very meaning of their quest upon discovering that more often than not a wine regions wines rarely contain that string of similarity across wines that is the holy grail of the Terroirista.

Is it the soil, really? Perhaps its not that at all. Maybe Im not looking for the effects of the soils and climates, but for traditions of winemaking that are embedded within different wine regions.

But then this thought becomes terribly unsatisfying. It means wines are not of the soil, but of the culture. Worse still, perhaps they are simply of the winemaker. This kind of conclusion simply doesnt carry the romance that the Terroirista seem to need in order to justify what is usually an unnaturally obsessive interest in wine.

So, its back to the search for terroir, for authenticity, for meaning. The idea of a regional character no longer satisfies. Its on to the search for wines of character that take their style not from a region that cannot possibly offer a satisfactorily homogenous set of soils and climate that their wines will all be affected the same way. Rather they begin their search for the single, small, well contained, vineyard.

The obsessed terroirista eventually finds themselves in pursuit of wines that can be identified and recognized by the signature of a single vineyards terroir.

This is where the lapse in self-control hits the searcher; because this is the real source of wines of character. The single vineyard wine is the only reliable marker of terroir. In these small plots, often no larger than ten or twenty acres we find reliable and consistent soils, patterns of weather that can be counted on, regular strains of yeast that float through the air, and a suns radiation that is always the same as long as the aspect of the land remains the sameand it probably has for the past half millennium.

In short, if you are of the former ilk, you are looking not for Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, but for Rochioli Allen Vineyard Pinot Noir; not for Napa Valley Cabernet, but for Corison Kronos Cabernet Sauvignon; not Sonoma Valley Zinfandel, but for Ravenswood or Bucklin Winery Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel.

This is the short cut for finding real terroir: the single vineyard. If you believe you tend toward the Terroirista rather than the simple pleasure seeker, cut to the chase and simply follow the vineyard. It will save you pain, soul searching and heartache.

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