How Terroir Affects Wine Making

How Terroir Affects Wine Making

What is Terroir? Terroir is a French term (pronounced terwah) and translates literally as “land” or “local” depending upon who you ask. In the world of wine though it takes on a far more complex meaning. One that is difficult to fully describe or even just wrap your mind around. The simplest definition I can find is “a sense of place”. Meaning that if a wine is said to be showing it’s terroir it is displaying characteristics of the specific locale the grapes were grown. What makes this so difficult is separating out the differences between two Chardonnays that are due to terroir versus differences caused by different wine making process. To get a better idea of what this terroir concept is all about let’s take a look at some of the factors that affect a wines terroir. The following list is by no means complete, it’ll just give us a good place to start from. Factors That Affect Terroir vineyard slope slope direction soil conditions nutrients in the soil (minerals) climate (singular weather events are not considered terroir) neighboring plants microclimates (pockets of cool air for example) use of wild yeast instead of inoculated yeast fermentation temperature proximity to mountains or bodies of water Winemakers can play with the following things to emphasize or mask the effects of terroir: pruning irrigation time of harvest oak (exposure time, type of oak, toast of oak, age of staves at the time the barrel was made, how many years the barrel has been used) It takes some trial and error to determine what sort of terroir a given vineyard has to offer and more time still to figure out how best to showcase it through the manipulation of the factors listed above. Minerality, for example, may come shining through the finished wine if the correct yeast is used. More on this later. The effects of a good slope are more difficult to understand or pinpoint as a contributing factor to a wine’s character. Tiny nuances in any of the factors that affect terroir can change the character of the finished wine. Because of this certain terroir areas can be very small. In fact some winemakers believe that the terroir in one specific spot will produce a wine of a given character and a patch just ten or twelve feet away will produce an entirely different character even if the same varietal occupies both areas. Largely it is believed that terroir is most influential in France. However, after listening to many hours worth of interviews with wine makers, I am discovering that many California winemakers know of areas that produce specific characteristics which can be attributed to terroir. How do they know? Well, a small producer will harvest their vineyard in lots and process the wine as they go. If one 500 gallon tank came from lot 2 and the next 500 gallon tank came from lot 3 and the two taste differently after fermentation it is likely terroir. This is true, of course, only if all other variables are held constant (such as yeast strain used, fermentation temperature, etc). The Trouble...

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Studying Wine to Become a Better Winemaker

Studying Wine to Become a Better Winemaker

Great winemakers have a tremendous depth of wine knowledge in addition to their understanding of the winemaking process. The more you know about finished wines the wines you make will be. Why? It’s nearly impossible for a winemaker to make a subtle and complex wine if he/she can’t describe or even pick out subtleties in what they drink. Once you know how to pick out the nuances of a great wine you can start hone your winemaking skills to draw out those characteristics out in your own wines. Many of us put a lot of effort into studying the winemaking process, as we should. But we mustn’t forget to study the finished product itself. What I mean is that we need to be developing our palate to pick out nuances as well as expanding our understanding of tasting and evaluating wines. Even if you’ve been at this for a while chances are there’s still a lot for you to learn. I know I’ve got a lot to learn. Over the years, however, I’ve found one resource that has broadened my knowledge of wine more than any other. It’s not some stuffy textbook or a video hosted by an “I’m smarter and better than you” wine expert. My Number One Wine Resource The resource I’m referring to is Wine for Normal People Radio, a podcast hosted by Elizabeth Schneider (@NormalWine) and M.C. Ice. Elizabeth is a certified sommelier that knows how to make wine fun and understandable. I’ve picked out my favorite shows to share with you. Listening to them will set you on the path to becoming a better winemaker. You’ll learn how to better taste wine, develop your palate, as well as discover the impact of terroir on wines. To get you started here are my top picks. Tasting and Terroir 1. Tasting Wine This episode walks you through the process of tasting wine. There’s a lot to tasting wine and I’m sure you’ll be familiar with much of this but it’s still something to brush up on especially with the help of a sommelier. 2. Developing Your Palate A winemaker’s palate is his/her most valuable tool. Without a well developed palate you’ll have a hard time identifying the good and bad aspects of your wine. You need to be able to pick out flaws so you can learn to correct them in the next wine you make. 3. Terroir Part I, and Part II Ok, terroir is a big topic for sure. Elizabeth spent two episodes covering this one and you really should listen to both shows. For winemakers terroir is key. The land and climate that your grapes grew up in can alter their flavors and aromas. The same varietal grown in two different geographic regions will have different qualities. Winemaking Episodes From time to time Wine for Normal People Radio will cover some winemaking topics specifically. Here are some great shows for winemakers. 1. How a Grape Becomes a Wine In this show Elizabeth will take you through the entire process of how wines are made. From vineyard to bottle, it’s all here. Since most of us don’t grow our own grapes it’s helpful to understand...

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