Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

Tasting notes, varietals, grapes - anything related to wine
Message
Author
User avatar
Alan Rath
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 17472
Joined: April 24th, 2009, 12:45 am
Location: Bay Area, CA. Sometimes out to lunch.

Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#1 Post by Alan Rath » December 20th, 2018, 10:03 pm

Carole Meredith tagged this article, which is quite an interesting read:
Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste
Professor Alex Maltman December 20, 2018

Professor Alex Maltman questions the new orthodoxy that vineyard geology is of overriding importance to a wine's character, and highlights some factors that may have been overlooked when it comes to understanding wine terroir in the glass.

https://www.decanter.com/magazine/wine- ... te-405096/
I'm just one lost soul, swimming in a fish bowl, year after year

TomHill
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 8826
Joined: July 28th, 2009, 9:21 am
Location: LosAlamos, NM

Thanks...

#2 Post by TomHill » December 21st, 2018, 7:54 am

Thanks for that link, Alan. Very nicely done article, though nothing all that new to you & me.
But it's a subject that more people should be aware of.
The big take-away from the article for me was the importance of the root-stock in the vines pick-up from the soil,
something I'd not thought much about. But the vine simple regulates the the nutrients it pulls out of the soils and doesn't
have kidneys/livers like humans to reject as waste what is not needed. And it's the rootstock that regulates those up-take
decisions, not the vine up-top.
Nice to see you up at Carlisle the other day.
Tom

User avatar
John Morris
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 15961
Joined: June 21st, 2009, 2:09 pm
Location: Gotham

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#3 Post by John Morris » December 21st, 2018, 8:03 am

A very clear, concise and polite debunking. Very informative.

Two things I would wonder about, though:

1. While it's easy to use hard science to dismiss anecdotal observations (and very often proper), I give some credence to people of the land like vignerons who have tended the same vineyard for decades (or generations) and have noticed differences in the wines that are made from different parts of the same plot that have different geologies.

2. This focuses on chemistry and geology and may not sufficiently account for more complex biological factors that may be affected by geology and, in turn, affect the resulting wine (e.g., organisms in the soil).

Put another way, you don't have to believe that the minerals in the soil are reflected in a wine's taste (which doesn't seem to hold up to analysis) in order to suspect that geology has a significant impact on wines. If geology were irrelevant, I guess we could just grow everything hydroponically.
“The writing of legislation is perhaps the highest art form the United States has yet achieved, even more original and compelling than the television commercial.” – Gore Vidal, 1974

It's hard for a $35 zin to compete with a $100 cabernet that tastes the same. – me, 2018

TomHill
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 8826
Joined: July 28th, 2009, 9:21 am
Location: LosAlamos, NM

Yup....

#4 Post by TomHill » December 21st, 2018, 8:33 am

John Morris wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 8:03 am
A very clear, concise and polite debunking. Very informative.

Two things I would wonder about, though:

1. While it's easy to use hard science to dismiss anecdotal observations (and very often proper), I give some credence to people of the land like vignerons who have tended the same vineyard for decades (or generations) and have noticed differences in the wines that are made from different parts of the same plot that have different geologies.

2. This focuses on chemistry and geology and may not sufficiently account for more complex biological factors that may be affected by geology and, in turn, affect the resulting wine (e.g., organisms in the soil).

Put another way, you don't have to believe that the minerals in the soil are reflected in a wine's taste (which doesn't seem to hold up to analysis) in order to suspect that geology has a significant impact on wines. If geology were irrelevant, I guess we could just grow everything hydroponically.
Yup, John. Agree. In the last paragraph, he refers to the unknown effects of the microbiology in the soil and much more research on that being needed.
Tom

User avatar
larry schaffer
BerserkerBusiness
BerserkerBusiness
Posts: 7402
Joined: January 28th, 2009, 9:26 am
Location: Santa Ynez Valley, CA

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#5 Post by larry schaffer » December 21st, 2018, 8:44 am

Thank you for sharing, Alan. As others have said, it is a nice to write an article that certain debunks some of the conventional wisdom is thrown out there by the wine trade.

I also agree with John that there probably are lots of things going on that are not easily explainable with science. That's kind of a tough pill to swallow because people will continue to use soil as one of the key explainers why certain wines are the way that they are.

To me, the bottom line is that we don't have all the answers. And people should not claim something unless they truly have a deep understanding of it. Is John points out, a vigneron or winemaker attends a piece of land for decades will have a pretty good understanding of the Ebbs and flows of that lands. He or she may not be able to, with certainty, explain in scientific terms what's happening. But that doesn't mean they don't understand it and can't explain it in a way that makes sense to them.

A somm or wine rep doing the same? Hmmmm.

Cheers.
larry schaffer
tercero wines

User avatar
GregT
Posts: 7079
Joined: April 15th, 2009, 3:12 pm

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#6 Post by GregT » December 21st, 2018, 8:55 am

Exactly Larry!

Good article and if you look back on some of the threads, some of us have been saying much of that for a long time. The next chapter in his article should be a bit about botany, which he touched on. The mere fact that something is present in the soil does not mean it will be taken up by, or even available to the vine. The roots of plants are pretty sophisticated and don't just act like vacuums, taking up everything they encounter. There's always a chemical exchange of ions, as he mentioned, and plants don't need loads of something just because it's around.

Moreover, because the humus and nutrients are in the topmost layers of the soil, the bulk of the root mass for any plant is in the top layer. If you've ever seen a tree that was toppled by a storm, it's astonishing how relatively shallow much of the root mass is. So while older vines do have larger root systems, there's no point to shooting roots far down where there are few nutrients. It's pretty well established that the majority of root systems are in the top three feet of soil. And that's where the mycorrhizae live. They have a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots and are responsible for much of the nutrition taken up by the vine.

Finally, the pH of the soil influences what will be available, as well as the form it is in. For example, iron can come as ferric iron, with a +3 charge, or ferrous iron, with a +2 charge. While the soil might be iron-rich, if it's all ferric iron, that's not doing much for your plants. So putting an iron pot next to your vine isn't going to add any iron to the grape juice. If you have things like phosphorus and calcium, the pH of the soil will still determine whether those are going to be available to the plant. There are fairly well understood tables that show the availability of various compounds based on soil pH.

And then of course, there's the overlay of BS. Once Alice opines on the subject, you know you're no longer talking about anything with a factual basis.

Good read Alan.
G . T a t a r

[i]"the incorrect overuse of apostrophes is staggering these days. I wonder if half the adults these days have any idea what they are for." Chris Seiber, 5/14/19[/i]

TomHill
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 8826
Joined: July 28th, 2009, 9:21 am
Location: LosAlamos, NM

Awwww...

#7 Post by TomHill » December 21st, 2018, 9:03 am

GregT wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 8:55 am
Exactly Larry!

Good article and if you look back on some of the threads, some of us have been saying much of that for a long time. The next chapter in his article should be a bit about botany, which he touched on. The mere fact that something is present in the soil does not mean it will be taken up by, or even available to the vine. The roots of plants are pretty sophisticated and don't just act like vacuums, taking up everything they encounter. There's always a chemical exchange of ions, as he mentioned, and plants don't need loads of something just because it's around.

Moreover, because the humus and nutrients are in the topmost layers of the soil, the bulk of the root mass for any plant is in the top layer. If you've ever seen a tree that was toppled by a storm, it's astonishing how relatively shallow much of the root mass is. So while older vines do have larger root systems, there's no point to shooting roots far down where there are few nutrients. It's pretty well established that the majority of root systems are in the top three feet of soil. And that's where the mycorrhizae live. They have a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots and are responsible for much of the nutrition taken up by the vine.

Finally, the pH of the soil influences what will be available, as well as the form it is in. For example, iron can come as ferric iron, with a +3 charge, or ferrous iron, with a +2 charge. While the soil might be iron-rich, if it's all ferric iron, that's not doing much for your plants. So putting an iron pot next to your vine isn't going to add any iron to the grape juice. If you have things like phosphorus and calcium, the pH of the soil will still determine whether those are going to be available to the plant. There are fairly well understood tables that show the availability of various compounds based on soil pH.

And then of course, there's the overlay of BS. Once Alice opines on the subject, you know you're no longer talking about anything with a factual basis.

Good read Alan.
Awwwww, Greg.....mind your manners here!!! [snort.gif]
Tom

Brian Gilp
Posts: 2279
Joined: May 29th, 2010, 6:00 am

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#8 Post by Brian Gilp » December 21st, 2018, 9:06 am

Having grown grapes in my own small vineyard for over a decade, I can say that I am truly amazed at how much difference a few feet can make wrt how a vine grows. I have vines spaced 3' x 3' and there are times when one vine can be showing signficant water stress and the one next to it isn't showing any. Sometimes its easy to see the cause and effect, for example, I have a shading issue due to my neighbors' trees and it is easily seen in the growth pattern of the vines that get less sun in the afternoon. But other times, it just isn't obvious why things change and why so abrubtly. I tend to believe its has more to do with soil structure, pH, slope, sun, and wind than geology but I won't rule anything out.

User avatar
Alan Rath
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 17472
Joined: April 24th, 2009, 12:45 am
Location: Bay Area, CA. Sometimes out to lunch.

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#9 Post by Alan Rath » December 21st, 2018, 9:10 am

GregT wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 8:55 am
Moreover, because the humus and nutrients are in the topmost layers of the soil, the bulk of the root mass for any plant is in the top layer. If you've ever seen a tree that was toppled by a storm, it's astonishing how relatively shallow much of the root mass is. So while older vines do have larger root systems, there's no point to shooting roots far down where there are few nutrients. It's pretty well established that the majority of root systems are in the top three feet of soil. And that's where the mycorrhizae live. They have a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots and are responsible for much of the nutrition taken up by the vine.
Yet growers are very fond of stressing how deep their vine roots go.

I very much like the article, but I am also a firm believer in terroir. My conclusion is not that soil doesn't matter, but that it's a tricky and indirect relationship, with water, winds, temperature, bugs and microbes, elevation, slope, exposure, etc., etc.

But just saying "we have chalky/schisty/granity/loamy/whatevery soil" is only part of the equation.
I'm just one lost soul, swimming in a fish bowl, year after year

User avatar
John Morris
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 15961
Joined: June 21st, 2009, 2:09 pm
Location: Gotham

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#10 Post by John Morris » December 21st, 2018, 9:47 am

I was going to say, "This is what Greg has been saying/posting for years!"

You're focusing on uptake through the roots, though. What about other things in the environment that can dramatically affect wine flavors, from botrytis to eucalyptus scents and ambient yeasts? (Is there any evidence that the garrique in the south of France really does impart its aromas?) It's not hard to imagine that some of those factors would be tied to geology.

Just speculating.
“The writing of legislation is perhaps the highest art form the United States has yet achieved, even more original and compelling than the television commercial.” – Gore Vidal, 1974

It's hard for a $35 zin to compete with a $100 cabernet that tastes the same. – me, 2018

Doug Schulman
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 4852
Joined: October 21st, 2009, 9:42 am
Location: MA

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#11 Post by Doug Schulman » December 21st, 2018, 10:17 am

Everyone in the trade should be forced to read that article. Of course, many of us already know that the whole idea of tasting some mineral in the wine because it's in the ground is total BS, but it's a bit frustrating for me how often I still hear that fallacy repeated by people who really should know better.
ITB - retail sales and education

Doug Schulman
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 4852
Joined: October 21st, 2009, 9:42 am
Location: MA

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#12 Post by Doug Schulman » December 21st, 2018, 10:18 am

GregT wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 8:55 am
And then of course, there's the overlay of BS. Once Alice opines on the subject, you know you're no longer talking about anything with a factual basis.
So true.
ITB - retail sales and education

James Billy
Posts: 769
Joined: November 10th, 2016, 6:53 pm

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#13 Post by James Billy » December 21st, 2018, 10:30 am

But of course terroir does matter. Pinot noir from Romanee Conti does not taste like that from La Tache or NSG or CdBeaune or the South of France or California or South Africa. Where does the difference come from if not terroirs.

User avatar
John Morris
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 15961
Joined: June 21st, 2009, 2:09 pm
Location: Gotham

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#14 Post by John Morris » December 21st, 2018, 10:40 am

James Billy wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 10:30 am
But of course terroir does matter. Pinot noir from Romanee Conti does not taste like that from La Tache or NSG or CdBeaune or the South of France or California or South Africa. Where does the difference come from if not terroirs.
You seem to be missing the point, which is that, whatever "terroir" consists of, it's not the minerals in the soil.
“The writing of legislation is perhaps the highest art form the United States has yet achieved, even more original and compelling than the television commercial.” – Gore Vidal, 1974

It's hard for a $35 zin to compete with a $100 cabernet that tastes the same. – me, 2018

Eric Lundblad
BerserkerBusiness
BerserkerBusiness
Posts: 1624
Joined: January 28th, 2009, 2:36 pm

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#15 Post by Eric Lundblad » December 21st, 2018, 10:44 am

Alan Rath wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 9:10 am

I very much like the article, but I am also a firm believer in terroir. My conclusion is not that soil doesn't matter, but that it's a tricky and indirect relationship, with water, winds, temperature, bugs and microbes, elevation, slope, exposure, etc., etc.
Interesting article...Alan's summary above makes sense to me.

Another significant & underappreciated factor is the grape vine clonal/genetic diversity that some areas have. Pinot Noir in Burgundy, where PN originated, for example. Burgundy has a massive number of PN variants compared to the rest of the world. The rest of the world adopting/planting a relatively small number of clones, those deemed as 'best' or 'complete', has made this worse.

I've been doing some reading/studying of coffee, which has the same issues. Ethiopia, where coffee originated, and Yemen and Kenya, similarly benefit from a huge number of genetic variants of the coffee trees they grow.

Not that the rest of the world isn't growing/making interesting wine & coffee...but genetic diversity, not the 'best clone' is the way to go.
Ladd Cellars
Winemaker & Owner

User avatar
Merrill Lindquist
BerserkerBusiness
BerserkerBusiness
Posts: 10491
Joined: July 22nd, 2009, 6:58 pm
Location: Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#16 Post by Merrill Lindquist » December 21st, 2018, 10:52 am

Alan Rath wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 9:10 am
GregT wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 8:55 am
Moreover, because the humus and nutrients are in the topmost layers of the soil, the bulk of the root mass for any plant is in the top layer. If you've ever seen a tree that was toppled by a storm, it's astonishing how relatively shallow much of the root mass is. So while older vines do have larger root systems, there's no point to shooting roots far down where there are few nutrients. It's pretty well established that the majority of root systems are in the top three feet of soil. And that's where the mycorrhizae live. They have a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots and are responsible for much of the nutrition taken up by the vine.
Yet growers are very fond of stressing how deep their vine roots go.

I very much like the article, but I am also a firm believer in terroir. My conclusion is not that soil doesn't matter, but that it's a tricky and indirect relationship, with water, winds, temperature, bugs and microbes, elevation, slope, exposure, etc., etc.

But just saying "we have chalky/schisty/granity/loamy/whatevery soil" is only part of the equation.
I agree, Alan. Also agree it is an article well worth reading and thinking about. The title is "Busting Terroir Myths," but the article focuses almost solely on geology (or soil). To me, terroir encompasses soil, yes, but weather (wind, temperature, etc.) which affects the vines just as much as the soil. Location (flat or hilly, etc.). As Greg said, I'd like to see a follow-on article that focuses on botany. I understand the intent of the article is to debunk the idea that the geology translates to the taste of the wine in the glass. I'm with him there. Hope he gives us more thoughts on the rest!
Merrill
EMH Vineyards - Home of the Black Cat
email:Merrill@EMHVineyards.com

Richard Albert
Posts: 543
Joined: November 16th, 2012, 2:49 pm
Location: Southernmost NorCal Wine Country

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#17 Post by Richard Albert » December 21st, 2018, 10:56 am

I attended a seminar at NASA Ames about 15-20 years ago as a guest of a good friend and wine lover working there. The speakers and attendees were NASA employees with strong interests in wine who basically laid out the premise the specific geologic composition of a vineyard's soil is not being absorbed by the vines and transported to the grape and influencing flavor or aroma.

My reaction was similar to John's and I immediately thought of the well studied and documented vineyards of Burgundy with visions of many dedicated monks. I weighed the detailed records from hundreds of years vs the brash 21st Century geeks saying the vines had no ability absorb a flavor from the predominant indigenous soil/rock. Stalemate; based on lack of more complete info which appears to be forthcoming.

I do agree that the microbes/bugs breaking down organic matter does matter and that the particular soil and microclimate around vines may provide specific conditions effecting the breakdown to absorbable influencers, as do certain additives/fertilizers(be they from a bag or an animal horn. Ha!)

Therefore, the decaying Eucalyptus leaves and seed/pods falling or blown onto Martha's Vineyard's specific soil in that microclimate could potentially provide the widely acknowledged mintiness assuming that responsible molecule does not get broken down itself and is absorbable. Or is it the pollen? The Eucalyptus behind my house started flowering just a few weeks ago , however, well after harvest. Mouton is know to have mint qualities too, but with no Eucalyptus, I bet. Damn.

We had a term in the hallowed corridors at college for this type speculation, "mental masturbation", applicable specifically here in terms of no short term significance. But, it is fun to wonder and theorize what our consuming fascination with grape juice is actually based upon, huh?
ITB

User avatar
Alan Rath
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 17472
Joined: April 24th, 2009, 12:45 am
Location: Bay Area, CA. Sometimes out to lunch.

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#18 Post by Alan Rath » December 21st, 2018, 11:13 am

Richard Albert wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 10:56 am
Therefore, the decaying Eucalyptus leaves and seed/pods falling or blown onto Martha's Vineyard's specific soil in that microclimate could potentially provide the widely acknowledged mintiness assuming that responsible molecule does not get broken down itself and is absorbable. Or is it the pollen? The Eucalyptus behind my house started flowering just a few weeks ago , however, well after harvest. Mouton is know to have mint qualities too, but with no Eucalyptus, I bet. Damn.
The well-known eucalyptus note on Martha's is no mystery (at least it seems to me). When you have eucalyptus groves nearby a vineyard, their oils are bound to land on the grapes, and go straight into the fermenter.

If you haven't been there, a remarkable example is Australia's Blue Mountains. This is a heavily eucalyptus forested area. When you look out over the valleys, you can literally see (and smell) the thick haze of oils in the air.

I guess you could call that Martha's eucalypt note "terroir", in that it's something local and unique.
I'm just one lost soul, swimming in a fish bowl, year after year

Steve Costigan
Posts: 22
Joined: July 22nd, 2018, 2:26 pm

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#19 Post by Steve Costigan » December 21st, 2018, 11:32 am

Is anyone aware of any studies showing how much soil gets deposited on grape surfaces and stays there? I wonder how much character we recognize as terroir (chalk, minerality, non-brett earthiness) isn't just resuspended soil. Microscopic particles get suspended in the air by wind, impact of rain drops, and any creatures or equipment crossing the ground nearby and some of that must be landing on grape surfaces. Some of those will make it into the juice during crushing and won't necessarily settle out and some may be soluble. There are certainty particles originating from the soil are getting on the grapes but I don't have a clue if that explains at least some of the terroir question.
Last edited by Steve Costigan on December 21st, 2018, 1:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Nate Simon
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 2211
Joined: September 17th, 2009, 8:41 pm

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#20 Post by Nate Simon » December 21st, 2018, 12:19 pm

I’ve been saying this for decades. “Terroir” is marketing, not science. People seldom agree with me, since their livelihoods/egos/gustatory constructs depend on the idea.

Kevin Harvey
Posts: 2543
Joined: February 4th, 2009, 9:09 pm
Location: Santa Cruz Mountains

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#21 Post by Kevin Harvey » December 21st, 2018, 12:27 pm

Personally, I didn't think he made much of a case (clearly not one that would hold up to any serious scientific scrutiny) that debunks terroir. His article is filled with personal opinions and incomplete logic. So for me, this article primarily highlighted how little is understood about how flavors in wine are developed.

To test his argument, take it to the extreme and answer the question why La Tache, Close des Ducs, Haut Brion, etc have not been synthesized or even roughly copied elsewhere. If someone could, they would do quite well.
Rhys Vineyards

User avatar
John Morris
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 15961
Joined: June 21st, 2009, 2:09 pm
Location: Gotham

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#22 Post by John Morris » December 21st, 2018, 12:29 pm

Alan Rath wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 11:13 am
If you haven't been there, a remarkable example is Australia's Blue Mountains. This is a heavily eucalyptus forested area. When you look out over the valleys, you can literally see (and smell) the thick haze of oils in the air.
Closer to home, you can have that experience walking on the Berkeley campus at the right time of year, Alan.
“The writing of legislation is perhaps the highest art form the United States has yet achieved, even more original and compelling than the television commercial.” – Gore Vidal, 1974

It's hard for a $35 zin to compete with a $100 cabernet that tastes the same. – me, 2018

User avatar
John Morris
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 15961
Joined: June 21st, 2009, 2:09 pm
Location: Gotham

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#23 Post by John Morris » December 21st, 2018, 12:30 pm

Kevin Harvey wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 12:27 pm
Personally, I didn't think he made much of a case (clearly not one that would hold up to any serious scientific scrutiny) that debunks terroir. His article is filled with personal opinions and incomplete logic. So for me, this article primarily highlighted how little is understood about how flavors in wine are developed.

To test his argument, take it to the extreme and answer the question why La Tache, Close des Ducs, Haut Brion, etc have not been synthesized or even roughly copied elsewhere. If someone could, they would do quite well.
I don't read him as trying to debunk the concept of terroir; just the notion that geology is a big determinant in flavors, and that minerals in the soil are a factor.
“The writing of legislation is perhaps the highest art form the United States has yet achieved, even more original and compelling than the television commercial.” – Gore Vidal, 1974

It's hard for a $35 zin to compete with a $100 cabernet that tastes the same. – me, 2018

Kevin Harvey
Posts: 2543
Joined: February 4th, 2009, 9:09 pm
Location: Santa Cruz Mountains

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#24 Post by Kevin Harvey » December 21st, 2018, 1:01 pm

John Morris wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 12:30 pm
I don't read him as trying to debunk the concept of terroir; just the notion that geology is a big determinant in flavors, and that minerals in the soil are a factor.
Debunking "the notion that geology is a big determinant in flavors" would be very hard to do. Here would be a few questions that I think would be necessary to be answered before beginning to "debunk" that:
What nutrients are necessary to produce a wine with a certain flavor profile?
Would it matter at what time during the growing season these nutrients are made available to the vine?
Would the availability of varying levels of nutrients (in combination) have an effect on flavor profile or tannin development?
What is the catalogue of compounds that we taste in wine? How is each made?

I could go on...but it's worth pointing out that none of those questions can currently be answered.
Rhys Vineyards

Dennis Borczon
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 490
Joined: January 28th, 2011, 2:46 pm

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#25 Post by Dennis Borczon » December 21st, 2018, 1:21 pm

Kevin Harvey wrote:
John Morris wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 12:30 pm
I don't read him as trying to debunk the concept of terroir; just the notion that geology is a big determinant in flavors, and that minerals in the soil are a factor.
Debunking "the notion that geology is a big determinant in flavors" would be very hard to do. Here would be a few questions that I think would be necessary to be answered before beginning to "debunk" that:
What nutrients are necessary to produce a wine with a certain flavor profile?
Would it matter at what time during the growing season these nutrients are made available to the vine?
Would the availability of varying levels of nutrients (in combination) have an effect on flavor profile or tannin development?
What is the catalogue of compounds that we taste in wine? How is each made?

I could go on...but it's worth pointing out that none of those questions can currently be answered.
This is the best answer. Look, guys in white lab coats and running around universities have been "proving" things for a long time. But to take a Trekkian approach, "damn it Jim!!" There are some things that just can't be explained by logic. It is not debatable that some wines just taste different made in certain places, and yes, Pinot tends to taste often a lot better on lomestone or clay mixes than other kinds of dirt. Otherwise I would be growing La Tache in my backyard. Fanciful connections between taste and place? Well maybe. But explain why certain people seem to be more attractive to most of us than others. Taste is an abstract construction, and looking for it in a lab is about as productive and trying to locate where your mind is on a CT scan of your brain.

It is everywhere, and nowhere.

.
.

Subu Ramachandran
Posts: 602
Joined: May 3rd, 2017, 1:16 pm
Location: NYC

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#26 Post by Subu Ramachandran » December 21st, 2018, 1:26 pm

Alan, thanks for the article.

The article doesn't debunk the empirical evidence of wines from different plots taste differently, the wine making being equal. However, it merely states, don't point to the soil type as the reason, as the scientific studies doesn't support the hypothesis. There are other major factors in play which need to be studied and identified. It's a known unknown.

It was easy for the farmers to look to the soil for the answer. And recent studies conducted by Francoise Vannier-Petit of burgundy vineyards suggest massive differences of soil type within a vineyard. No one is suggesting the maps be re-written, but one should abandon the "belief" system given the new data and science.

Subu Ramachandran
Posts: 602
Joined: May 3rd, 2017, 1:16 pm
Location: NYC

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#27 Post by Subu Ramachandran » December 21st, 2018, 1:38 pm

GregT wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 8:55 am
Exactly Larry!

Good article and if you look back on some of the threads, some of us have been saying much of that for a long time. The next chapter in his article should be a bit about botany, which he touched on. The mere fact that something is present in the soil does not mean it will be taken up by, or even available to the vine. The roots of plants are pretty sophisticated and don't just act like vacuums, taking up everything they encounter. There's always a chemical exchange of ions, as he mentioned, and plants don't need loads of something just because it's around.

Moreover, because the humus and nutrients are in the topmost layers of the soil, the bulk of the root mass for any plant is in the top layer. If you've ever seen a tree that was toppled by a storm, it's astonishing how relatively shallow much of the root mass is. So while older vines do have larger root systems, there's no point to shooting roots far down where there are few nutrients. It's pretty well established that the majority of root systems are in the top three feet of soil. And that's where the mycorrhizae live. They have a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots and are responsible for much of the nutrition taken up by the vine.

Finally, the pH of the soil influences what will be available, as well as the form it is in. For example, iron can come as ferric iron, with a +3 charge, or ferrous iron, with a +2 charge. While the soil might be iron-rich, if it's all ferric iron, that's not doing much for your plants. So putting an iron pot next to your vine isn't going to add any iron to the grape juice. If you have things like phosphorus and calcium, the pH of the soil will still determine whether those are going to be available to the plant. There are fairly well understood tables that show the availability of various compounds based on soil pH.

And then of course, there's the overlay of BS. Once Alice opines on the subject, you know you're no longer talking about anything with a factual basis.

Good read Alan.
Nice one Greg.

User avatar
Alan Rath
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 17472
Joined: April 24th, 2009, 12:45 am
Location: Bay Area, CA. Sometimes out to lunch.

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#28 Post by Alan Rath » December 21st, 2018, 1:46 pm

Kevin Harvey wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 1:01 pm
John Morris wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 12:30 pm
I don't read him as trying to debunk the concept of terroir; just the notion that geology is a big determinant in flavors, and that minerals in the soil are a factor.
Debunking "the notion that geology is a big determinant in flavors" would be very hard to do. Here would be a few questions that I think would be necessary to be answered before beginning to "debunk" that:
What nutrients are necessary to produce a wine with a certain flavor profile?
Would it matter at what time during the growing season these nutrients are made available to the vine?
Would the availability of varying levels of nutrients (in combination) have an effect on flavor profile or tannin development?
What is the catalogue of compounds that we taste in wine? How is each made?

I could go on...but it's worth pointing out that none of those questions can currently be answered.
Kevin, I know geology is near and dear to you, understandably. And I actually don't think Maltman is saying at all that geology is unimportant. Rather, I read him to be saying that, while geology IS an important factor, and provides the matrix on which everything happens, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition. What happens ON the geology is equally (and probably more) important, i.e., the general climate, temperatures, wind/warming/cooling flows, water resources and patterns, the living flora/fauna in and on the soil and vines, etc.

I think he's actually saying what you've always said: that the choice of vineyard site is important, but that how you farm and treat the soil and vines is at least as important, if not more. I hear him supporting the notion that just having a great site isn't enough, you need to farm the land properly, encourage its health and diversity, because that allows the vines to extract what they need from the soil. It all seems consistent with the idea of organic agriculture, how plots that are farmed with excessive pesticides and herbicides produce sub-par wine, and explains how sites that went from inorganic to organic agriculture blossomed.
I'm just one lost soul, swimming in a fish bowl, year after year

Eric Lundblad
BerserkerBusiness
BerserkerBusiness
Posts: 1624
Joined: January 28th, 2009, 2:36 pm

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#29 Post by Eric Lundblad » December 21st, 2018, 1:48 pm

In the Uptake (of nutrients) section, he talks about how plants absorb nutrients, including the following:

"There is some passive uptake of elements and the selectivity mechanisms are far from infallible, hence nutrient imbalances can arise, but these are routinely checked for by a conscientious grower and corrected as necessary."

This makes it sound like it doesn't matter whether someone has diabetes or not.


The pH of the soil has a huge impact (see the pretty picture below) on how grape vines absorb nutrients...and pH is mostly determined by the soil geology.

Image

Clay particles (the smallest particles of soil, and do a majority of holding on to nutrients) are arranged differently (think snowflakes, sort of) depending on the soil geology. The different types of clay particles hold the various nutrients in differing amounts...affecting the grapes of course.

And, different types of clay particles cause the soil to swell (when wet) and contract (when dry) more or less, which could have an impact on grape vine performance.

Anyways, differing amounts of nutrients is certainly going to affect the grapes/wine and those are, to some degree anyways, affected by soil geology.

The bee in my bonnet about Minerality: he made an oblique reference to the "minerality doesn't exist because the roots don't take minerals up and deliver them to the grapes' argument. Minerality is just a descriptor for some wines. Many red wines have cherry flavors...but no one is arguing this because cherries are taken up from the soil to the grapes. Or earthy flavors in wine, etc. Comments like these by researchers/etc make me think they aren't paying attention, to the same thing I am anyways.
Ladd Cellars
Winemaker & Owner

R. Frankel
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 1523
Joined: January 24th, 2014, 11:07 pm

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#30 Post by R. Frankel » December 21st, 2018, 2:45 pm

As wine geeks it’s in our nature to try to understand why wine tastes the way it does as we struggle to describe it. We absolutely believe that some wines are better than others even if we also admit that taste is subjective. We reject the notion that good wine has to cost more while consistently being willing to pay more for a coveted bottle. We embrace the contradictions that make us wine lovers.

Terroir is no exception. Something about the idea that a particular plot of land is special irks us as undemocratic. And yet ... the experts spend $$ and effort finding the best plots for their wine growing plans. And we talk about vineyard obsessively. I don’t think any serious wine fanatic can ignore the importance of terroir. I certainly don’t.

I wasn’t that impressed with the conclusions of this article. The science is fine, but far too narrow to prove very much. The reality of vineyard is much more complicated as many here have discussed. And this doesn’t even scratch at all the human intervention in the fields (over decades or centuries!) on the plants as they grow, when they are picked, how they are handled, how the wines are manipulated, etc. These variables are not impossible to understand; they certainly all impact what we taste in the wine.

[thread drift!] Many of you are wine makers. What would you prefer, access to a particular plot of vines/land? Or Aubert de Villaine spending time with you as a mentor for an entire cycle of wine growing/production?
Rich Frankel

R. Frankel
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 1523
Joined: January 24th, 2014, 11:07 pm

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#31 Post by R. Frankel » December 21st, 2018, 2:52 pm

Nate Simon wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 12:19 pm
I’ve been saying this for decades. “Terroir” is marketing, not science. People seldom agree with me, since their livelihoods/egos/gustatory constructs depend on the idea.
Tosh. Just because producers of goods use a term in their marketing doesn’t mean it has no value or truth. Nate is it really true that you have no wine preferences based on vineyard? Or even wider, appellation? This is hard to imagine.

Kevin Harvey has been kind enough to post here. Of his wines, I generally like Alpine more than Home. Isn’t this terroir?
Rich Frankel

User avatar
Alan Rath
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 17472
Joined: April 24th, 2009, 12:45 am
Location: Bay Area, CA. Sometimes out to lunch.

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#32 Post by Alan Rath » December 21st, 2018, 2:55 pm

Eric Lundblad wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 1:48 pm
In the Uptake (of nutrients) section, he talks about how plants absorb nutrients, including the following:

"There is some passive uptake of elements and the selectivity mechanisms are far from infallible, hence nutrient imbalances can arise, but these are routinely checked for by a conscientious grower and corrected as necessary."

This makes it sound like it doesn't matter whether someone has diabetes or not.


The pH of the soil has a huge impact (see the pretty picture below) on how grape vines absorb nutrients...and pH is mostly determined by the soil geology.

Image

Clay particles (the smallest particles of soil, and do a majority of holding on to nutrients) are arranged differently (think snowflakes, sort of) depending on the soil geology. The different types of clay particles hold the various nutrients in differing amounts...affecting the grapes of course.

And, different types of clay particles cause the soil to swell (when wet) and contract (when dry) more or less, which could have an impact on grape vine performance.

Anyways, differing amounts of nutrients is certainly going to affect the grapes/wine and those are, to some degree anyways, affected by soil geology.
Again, I think what he is saying is that the soil type and conditions act indirectly to foster growth of flora, which in turn is the greater source of nutrients - including minerals. It would be interesting to try and grow plants in a completely sterilized soil base, just water and soil, and see how they do vs. a thriving soil. I think we know the answer to that ;)
I'm just one lost soul, swimming in a fish bowl, year after year

Kevin Harvey
Posts: 2543
Joined: February 4th, 2009, 9:09 pm
Location: Santa Cruz Mountains

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#33 Post by Kevin Harvey » December 21st, 2018, 3:10 pm

Alan Rath wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 1:46 pm
Kevin, I know geology is near and dear to you, understandably. And I actually don't think Maltman is saying at all that geology is unimportant. Rather, I read him to be saying that, while geology IS an important factor, and provides the matrix on which everything happens, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition. What happens ON the geology is equally (and probably more) important, i.e., the general climate, temperatures, wind/warming/cooling flows, water resources and patterns, the living flora/fauna in and on the soil and vines, etc.

I think he's actually saying what you've always said: that the choice of vineyard site is important, but that how you farm and treat the soil and vines is at least as important, if not more. I hear him supporting the notion that just having a great site isn't enough, you need to farm the land properly, encourage its health and diversity, because that allows the vines to extract what they need from the soil. It all seems consistent with the idea of organic agriculture, how plots that are farmed with excessive pesticides and herbicides produce sub-par wine, and explains how sites that went from inorganic to organic agriculture blossomed.
Alan,
I agree with essentially all of your points of course and geology is certainly not the only factor in wine character and quality.
This article (which essentially gets re-written each year or so under various titles, "Terroir debunked", "The Myth of Terroir" etc ) seems to presume that someone out there believes that geology is the only factor in wine quality and character but I have yet to meet that person...
It would be much more interesting to read "Terroir understood" or "The role of geology in wine character and quality"!!
Rhys Vineyards

User avatar
Al Osterheld
Posts: 5100
Joined: March 15th, 2009, 5:47 am
Location: SF Bay

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#34 Post by Al Osterheld » December 21st, 2018, 3:18 pm

FWIW, Maltman has written a book entitled Vineyard, Rocks, and Soils: The Winelover’s Guide to Geology. So, pretty sure he thinks geology is important and he has much more to say than can be learned from this one short article.

-Al

User avatar
Alan Rath
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 17472
Joined: April 24th, 2009, 12:45 am
Location: Bay Area, CA. Sometimes out to lunch.

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#35 Post by Alan Rath » December 21st, 2018, 3:22 pm

Kevin Harvey wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 3:10 pm
"Terroir debunked", "The Myth of Terroir" etc ) seems to presume that someone out there believes that geology is the only factor in wine quality and character but I have yet to meet that person...
It would be much more interesting to read "Terroir understood" or "The role of geology in wine character and quality"!!
Perhaps he is writing to a lot of somms, and even vignerons, who emphasize the chalk/clay/schist in their vineyard as the primary reason for it's character. Or just the average wine drinker (as opposed to us wine geeks) who hasn't really thought about it much. But I agree that his title is in a way almost as misleading as the "myths" he is addressing.
I'm just one lost soul, swimming in a fish bowl, year after year

User avatar
Merrill Lindquist
BerserkerBusiness
BerserkerBusiness
Posts: 10491
Joined: July 22nd, 2009, 6:58 pm
Location: Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#36 Post by Merrill Lindquist » December 21st, 2018, 3:36 pm

R. Frankel wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 2:45 pm
As wine geeks it’s in our nature to try to understand why wine tastes the way it does as we struggle to describe it. We absolutely believe that some wines are better than others even if we also admit that taste is subjective. We reject the notion that good wine has to cost more while consistently being willing to pay more for a coveted bottle. We embrace the contradictions that make us wine lovers.

Terroir is no exception. Something about the idea that a particular plot of land is special irks us as undemocratic. And yet ... the experts spend $$ and effort finding the best plots for their wine growing plans. And we talk about vineyard obsessively. I don’t think any serious wine fanatic can ignore the importance of terroir. I certainly don’t.

I wasn’t that impressed with the conclusions of this article. The science is fine, but far too narrow to prove very much. The reality of vineyard is much more complicated as many here have discussed. And this doesn’t even scratch at all the human intervention in the fields (over decades or centuries!) on the plants as they grow, when they are picked, how they are handled, how the wines are manipulated, etc. These variables are not impossible to understand; they certainly all impact what we taste in the wine.

[thread drift!] Many of you are wine makers. What would you prefer, access to a particular plot of vines/land? Or Aubert de Villaine spending time with you as a mentor for an entire cycle of wine growing/production?
Rich, you know me, the single most important thing to me is owning the vineyard I work and make all the decisions for. But I have never had it any other way. I did not start out purchasing fruit from another vineyard, and go on to purchase my own. As a control freak, this suits me very well. As I often say, when people ask me how I got into all this, I simply say: "I bought a house I loved, and it came with a vineyard (and view and privacy - all important to me). I was fortunate (because I was clueless) that my small ranch is located in an area known for producing excellent fruit - oh, here we go again: terroir!
Merrill
EMH Vineyards - Home of the Black Cat
email:Merrill@EMHVineyards.com

Doug Schulman
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 4852
Joined: October 21st, 2009, 9:42 am
Location: MA

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#37 Post by Doug Schulman » December 21st, 2018, 4:03 pm

Alan Rath wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 3:22 pm
Kevin Harvey wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 3:10 pm
"Terroir debunked", "The Myth of Terroir" etc ) seems to presume that someone out there believes that geology is the only factor in wine quality and character but I have yet to meet that person...
It would be much more interesting to read "Terroir understood" or "The role of geology in wine character and quality"!!
Perhaps he is writing to a lot of somms, and even vignerons, who emphasize the chalk/clay/schist in their vineyard as the primary reason for it's character. Or just the average wine drinker (as opposed to us wine geeks) who hasn't really thought about it much. But I agree that his title is in a way almost as misleading as the "myths" he is addressing.
That's exactly what I thought. It's not about debunking the idea of terroir or even that geology plays a part. I hear over and over again about a wine tasting like chalk because there's chalk in the soil, though (for example), and that's just nonsense. Of course differences in geology will give different pH, drainage, and probably different soil microbes, and that all can influence the style and aromas of the finished wine. I don't see the author arguing against any of that. There is this very common myth that the soil and geology are by far the most important elements of terroir and that they very directly influence how a wine tastes. So much wine marketing is based around that. I hear is from importers, winemakers, and sommeliers all the time. I think the author is pointing out the fallacy in that idea. A lot of posters here are reading more into the article, including things that I don't see there at all.
ITB - retail sales and education

User avatar
Alan Rath
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 17472
Joined: April 24th, 2009, 12:45 am
Location: Bay Area, CA. Sometimes out to lunch.

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#38 Post by Alan Rath » December 21st, 2018, 4:11 pm

Doug, that was my take when I first read it as well. If you go by his introductory paragraphs, he's responding to your points:
‘Soil, not grapes, is the latest must-know when choosing a wine,’ Bloomberg tells me, for example. So why am I not full of joy? Well, because as a scientist I have to follow the evidence, and this leads me to query this new pre-eminence of vineyard geology.

Of course, a link between wine and the land has long been treasured as something special. It even survived the discovery of photosynthesis – that vines and wine are not made from matter drawn from the ground but almost wholly of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, abstracted from water and the air.

The rocks and soils in which the vines grow are certainly still part of the scientific picture, but this pre-eminent role is something new.

Today there are restaurants with wine lists organised not by grape, wine style or country of origin, but by vineyard geology.

Alice Feiring’s book The Dirty Guide to Wine urges drinkers to choose their wines by ‘looking at the source: the ground in which it grows’. There’s a consortium of growers from such diverse places as St-Chinian, Alsace, Corsica and Valais that claims commonality of its members’ wines simply because their vines are growing on schist – even though schist and the soils derived from it are incredibly varied. The same could be said about the very fashionable idea of (so-called) volcanic wines.

Yet in none of this are we told what the geology actually does; how a particular rock brings something special to the wine in our glasses.
I only posted the article because Carole Meredith pointed it out. Maybe she'll chime in with an opinion, but I bow to a famous botanist who spent her career studying vines (and works a great vineyard) not to send us down the wrong path ;)
I'm just one lost soul, swimming in a fish bowl, year after year

User avatar
Howard Cooper
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 15744
Joined: May 30th, 2009, 8:37 am
Location: Rockville, MD

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#39 Post by Howard Cooper » December 21st, 2018, 4:20 pm

Alan Rath wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 9:10 am
GregT wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 8:55 am
Moreover, because the humus and nutrients are in the topmost layers of the soil, the bulk of the root mass for any plant is in the top layer. If you've ever seen a tree that was toppled by a storm, it's astonishing how relatively shallow much of the root mass is. So while older vines do have larger root systems, there's no point to shooting roots far down where there are few nutrients. It's pretty well established that the majority of root systems are in the top three feet of soil. And that's where the mycorrhizae live. They have a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots and are responsible for much of the nutrition taken up by the vine.
Yet growers are very fond of stressing how deep their vine roots go.

I very much like the article, but I am also a firm believer in terroir. My conclusion is not that soil doesn't matter, but that it's a tricky and indirect relationship, with water, winds, temperature, bugs and microbes, elevation, slope, exposure, etc., etc.

But just saying "we have chalky/schisty/granity/loamy/whatevery soil" is only part of the equation.
I never think of terroir is being solely or largely soil. A vineyard with chalky/schisty/granity/loamy/whatevery soil does not have the same terroir as a vineyard 500 miles away with chalky/schisty/granity/loamy/whatevery soil.
Howard

"That's what I do. I drink and I know things." Tyrion Lannister

User avatar
Howard Cooper
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 15744
Joined: May 30th, 2009, 8:37 am
Location: Rockville, MD

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#40 Post by Howard Cooper » December 21st, 2018, 4:25 pm

Merrill Lindquist wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 10:52 am
I agree, Alan. Also agree it is an article well worth reading and thinking about. The title is "Busting Terroir Myths," but the article focuses almost solely on geology (or soil). To me, terroir encompasses soil, yes, but weather (wind, temperature, etc.) which affects the vines just as much as the soil. Location (flat or hilly, etc.). As Greg said, I'd like to see a follow-on article that focuses on botany. I understand the intent of the article is to debunk the idea that the geology translates to the taste of the wine in the glass. I'm with him there. Hope he gives us more thoughts on the rest!
[/quote]

Merrill,

I may not be saying anything different from you, but I think of the climate of a plot of land (longer term weather characteristics) as part of the terroir but actual weather in a year as being vintage differences, not terroir differences.
Howard

"That's what I do. I drink and I know things." Tyrion Lannister

User avatar
Howard Cooper
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 15744
Joined: May 30th, 2009, 8:37 am
Location: Rockville, MD

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#41 Post by Howard Cooper » December 21st, 2018, 4:30 pm

What would you prefer, access to a particular plot of vines/land? Or Aubert de Villaine spending time with you as a mentor for an entire cycle of wine growing/production?
[/quote]

I am not a winemaker, but I would prefer to own La Tache than to have Aubert de Villaine as a mentor. If I own La Tache, I can hire someone really good to grow the grapes and make the wine. But, there is only one La Tache.
Howard

"That's what I do. I drink and I know things." Tyrion Lannister

User avatar
Howard Cooper
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 15744
Joined: May 30th, 2009, 8:37 am
Location: Rockville, MD

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#42 Post by Howard Cooper » December 21st, 2018, 4:32 pm

Nate Simon wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 12:19 pm
I’ve been saying this for decades. “Terroir” is marketing, not science. People seldom agree with me, since their livelihoods/egos/gustatory constructs depend on the idea.
So, if you are buying a wine, say a Ridge Cabernet, you would always buy the estate Cabernet rather than Monte Bello because the terroir of Monte Bello is pure marketing and the estate Cabernet is just as good?
Howard

"That's what I do. I drink and I know things." Tyrion Lannister

User avatar
Robert.A.Jr.
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 19578
Joined: January 28th, 2010, 5:03 am
Location: Orlando, Florida

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#43 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » December 21st, 2018, 4:50 pm

Howard Cooper wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 4:32 pm
Nate Simon wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 12:19 pm
I’ve been saying this for decades. “Terroir” is marketing, not science. People seldom agree with me, since their livelihoods/egos/gustatory constructs depend on the idea.
So, if you are buying a wine, say a Ridge Cabernet, you would always buy the estate Cabernet rather than Monte Bello because the terroir of Monte Bello is pure marketing and the estate Cabernet is just as good?
Bingo. Terroir matters.

"@lf3rt was clearly raised in an outhouse in the Loire. . . ."

Kenny H (circa 2015)

User avatar
Merrill Lindquist
BerserkerBusiness
BerserkerBusiness
Posts: 10491
Joined: July 22nd, 2009, 6:58 pm
Location: Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#44 Post by Merrill Lindquist » December 21st, 2018, 5:31 pm

Howard Cooper wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 4:25 pm
Merrill Lindquist wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 10:52 am
I agree, Alan. Also agree it is an article well worth reading and thinking about. The title is "Busting Terroir Myths," but the article focuses almost solely on geology (or soil). To me, terroir encompasses soil, yes, but weather (wind, temperature, etc.) which affects the vines just as much as the soil. Location (flat or hilly, etc.). As Greg said, I'd like to see a follow-on article that focuses on botany. I understand the intent of the article is to debunk the idea that the geology translates to the taste of the wine in the glass. I'm with him there. Hope he gives us more thoughts on the rest!
Merrill,

I may not be saying anything different from you, but I think of the climate of a plot of land (longer term weather characteristics) as part of the terroir but actual weather in a year as being vintage differences, not terroir differences.
[/quote]Vintage weather affects the vineyard, but it is secondary to terroir: land plus weather. Vintage differences (weather during that vintage year) affect the yield and quality from the vineyard. But the vineyard is the vineyard: it is where it is, it has its rootstock and clone, and it has the person who calls the shots for it. You can replant or graft, you can use chemical fertilizer (not me), you can do a lot of stuff. The land is the land, with an overlay of who is managing it, and to which target or focus.
Merrill
EMH Vineyards - Home of the Black Cat
email:Merrill@EMHVineyards.com

Kevin Harvey
Posts: 2543
Joined: February 4th, 2009, 9:09 pm
Location: Santa Cruz Mountains

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#45 Post by Kevin Harvey » December 21st, 2018, 5:46 pm

R. Frankel wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 2:45 pm
[thread drift!] Many of you are wine makers. What would you prefer, access to a particular plot of vines/land? Or Aubert de Villaine spending time with you as a mentor for an entire cycle of wine growing/production?
Without question, I would much rather have the plot of land. I have spent a good amount of time with Aubert and have enormous respect for him. He is a great man, leader and ambassador. He has been a tremendous steward to some of the very best vineyards in the world. This stewardship has positioned DRC for years to come. But that execution is all replicable and some New World wineries execute their business and winemaking equally as well.
What is utterly unique and non-reproducible about DRC is the quality and character that their Vosne Grand Crus are capable of. And Aubert would be the first to explain that.
Rhys Vineyards

User avatar
D@vid Bu3ker
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 30618
Joined: February 14th, 2009, 8:06 am

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#46 Post by D@vid Bu3ker » December 21st, 2018, 6:14 pm

Nate Simon wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 12:19 pm
I’ve been saying this for decades. “Terroir” is marketing, not science. People seldom agree with me, since their livelihoods/egos/gustatory constructs depend on the idea.
To quote Terry Theise: “Anybody who says he doesn’t believe in terroir is afraid he doesn’t have the right one.”
David Bueker - Rieslingfan

User avatar
Cris Whetstone
GCC Member
GCC Member
Posts: 10799
Joined: January 27th, 2009, 1:09 pm
Location: OC, CA

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#47 Post by Cris Whetstone » December 21st, 2018, 7:05 pm

Howard Cooper wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 4:32 pm
Nate Simon wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 12:19 pm
I’ve been saying this for decades. “Terroir” is marketing, not science. People seldom agree with me, since their livelihoods/egos/gustatory constructs depend on the idea.
So, if you are buying a wine, say a Ridge Cabernet, you would always buy the estate Cabernet rather than Monte Bello because the terroir of Monte Bello is pure marketing and the estate Cabernet is just as good?
Unless something changed quite a bit, the 'second' Cab based wine from Ridge is simply a barrel selection. Maybe something changed when they changed the title from "Santa Cruz Mountains Estate" to "Cabernet Sauvignon Estate" that I am unaware of. Clearly they are focusing on the Cab portion where as the SCM bottling would often have a lot of Merlot in it. But at that time it was barrel selection. The better barrels that were to go into the Monte Bello bottling were kept in barrel for another year or so. The other stuff was pulled after a year post selection for bottling.
WetRock

"Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true." - Francis Bacon

"I had taken two finger-bowls of champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound." - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

User avatar
Merrill Lindquist
BerserkerBusiness
BerserkerBusiness
Posts: 10491
Joined: July 22nd, 2009, 6:58 pm
Location: Calistoga, Napa Valley, CA

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#48 Post by Merrill Lindquist » December 21st, 2018, 7:12 pm

D@vid Bu3ker wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 6:14 pm
Nate Simon wrote:
December 21st, 2018, 12:19 pm
I’ve been saying this for decades. “Terroir” is marketing, not science. People seldom agree with me, since their livelihoods/egos/gustatory constructs depend on the idea.
To quote Terry Theise: “Anybody who says he doesn’t believe in terroir is afraid he doesn’t have the right one.”
That's a great one.
Merrill
EMH Vineyards - Home of the Black Cat
email:Merrill@EMHVineyards.com

User avatar
GregT
Posts: 7079
Joined: April 15th, 2009, 3:12 pm

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#49 Post by GregT » December 21st, 2018, 8:49 pm

I think the title of the article was a bit unfortunate and I don't think anyone would say that terroir is irrelevant. A better title might have been something discussing geology and terroir. As Eric posted, there are fairly well understood relationships between pH and nutrient availability, and there's clearly an interface between the geology that created the soil and the local pH.

We have many claims that the gravel, galets, sand, schist, granite, slate, llicorella, or blends like chalk that is covered with iron-rich soil are responsible for the qualities of a wine. I don't believe the author was claiming that terroir doesn't exist, just that blithely attributing it to a soil type is overly simplistic. Of course, that's why people can become experts in the subject overnight and decide to arrange wine lists by vineyard soil type.

When you do walk the vineyards and see ribbons of differing soil types, you are a bit out of luck because very few people harvest and vinify each row separately, which would be the logical move if you have a vineyard on a mountainside where the earth shifted 90 degrees at some point in the distant past and the stratification is visible. But they don't and yet the wine from that hillside is distinguishable from that of another. It's not necessarily the geology or make up of the rock, but the exposure, the angle of the sun in the afternoon, the fog that comes from the valley below, the cooler nights, the wind that blows a little more steadily than farther down, the drainage, etc. In other words, a lot of things unrelated to the rock type.
G . T a t a r

[i]"the incorrect overuse of apostrophes is staggering these days. I wonder if half the adults these days have any idea what they are for." Chris Seiber, 5/14/19[/i]

User avatar
Jim Anderson
BerserkerBusiness
BerserkerBusiness
Posts: 4660
Joined: October 20th, 2010, 1:18 pm
Location: Portland/Newberg, Oregon

Re: Busting terroir myths: The science of soil and wine taste

#50 Post by Jim Anderson » December 21st, 2018, 9:21 pm

I, for reasons of practicality and interest, decided to wait this out a bit.

Geology is important. It is not the defining character but it does provide definition. The soil is the plants’ home. While your home, especially one you lived in all your life, may not define you it does lend, let’s say, a baseline to one’s character. How one is treated, whom they associate with, the conditions in which they exist and the care they receive over time shape and mold that baseline character but it is there.

Can I explain why the 4 Dundee Hill sites have similar textures, albeit spread over a broad range of the definition of the word similar, and that the 2 non-Dundee Hill yet still Jory soil sites share that baseline nature? Scientifically speaking, no I cannot. Nor would I care to or am even interested in making the attempt. I have no interest in chasing the serpent’s tale in a futile effort to prove or disprove what I believe and have experienced over nearly half my life.

I am not a religious person at all but it does not mean I don’t have or do not believe in faith. I have a belief that what I see, touch, smell and taste inform me at a level that I believe I can rightfully, honestly and with all manner of integrity communicate to people interested enough to hear what I have to say about my wines as they experience them.

I don’t think terrroir is geology or geology defines terroir but I do believe that the two are connected and that a lab can not verify that belief is beyond unimportant to me. We understand far less about plants and plant life than we pretend we do. We haven’t figured out human behavior, development, emotions and capacity in any way beyond rudimantarily and plants have been around for billions of years longer than we have. I’m not attempting to engage in magical talk here but I have a firm belief that plants, especially complex fruit bearing plants that work within the context of a network, are far more complicated and interesting than science folk imagine.

Off the top of my head I would say we have around 60 distinct lots in the cellar based upon geology, clone, vine age, fermentation technique, etc. Within vineyards we have it broken down to, perhaps, a level of dork-dom that is beyond most people’s ability to deal with. However, I think that has served us well. I can easily guide anyone through a barrel tasting based on a myriad of factors of the discussion of terroir and show them what I think and believe is possible and not have anyone believe it’s BS.

I understand the desire to and rationale behind wanting to define the scientific existence of terroir and question those that talk about their experiences with it at many levels. This is, to me, not the essence or even an interesting part of vineyards and wine. Drilling down to find the answer won’t get you La Tache, Stony Hill, Freedom Hill or any other vineyard’s true nature.
Co-owner, Patricia Green Cellars

Post Reply

Return to “Wine Talk”