I confess that somewhere, I am a Terroirist. A lot of you may choose to agree, or disagree, but a majority may first insist to know what the term very well means in the first place.
Terroir is a funny word. It encapsulates all that goes into a wine. Not just the nature-induced but also the man-brought. Soil and climate are natural, we cannot control them, at best perhaps, harness their degrees of turbulence or calm. What we do with the wine in the cellar, on the other hand, is entirely up to us. We can decide how we handle the wine, how long we age it, if at all, and in what type of oak. All these decisions and many more lie with us and rely on our good sense to make choices based on our experience and intuition to arrive at a wine that will showcase the best of man and nature from that particular year. This then is Terroir, the summation, the Ideal Triangle, with the consumer and his acceptance making up the last vertex in this trilogy.
On the two sides of this Terroir line lie opinions. On one hand are the people who worship this holy union and believe that it cannot be replicated, let alone imitated. They stick by the one constant thought that wine from a certain area and producer(s) will have a unique merit and hence the superiority bestowed upon it, albeit unfair, is not to be doubted, contested, or scoffed. It is to be respected, admired meekly and to be remembered as a humbling sign of our mortal modesty.
Then there is the other school – armed with test tubes and beakers, laboratories filled with enough equipment to start a small cultured civilisation – which believes that there is a reason why man is on top of the food chain. He can survive but more importantly he can rule. He can take charge of the situation and the environment and use it to his best advantage. To replicate a wine style then is small fish to fry, or vine to train, whichever you prefer.
I have found, over time, and post many tastings, that I belong to the former of the two cults. I find that wine has a way of humbling me (even as the alcohol somewhat empowers), it makes me sit and ponder questions of life existence and passing over. It makes me gaze into nothingness and find it meaningful. It elates without exciting and calms without numbing. And it only happens when the wine is an offspring of the combined efforts of man and nature.
But I have to agree that most wines do not belong to such levels of liquid philosophy. The average bottles uncorked every second in the world are not the example to exemplify the principles of the Terroirists. Far from it, they are easy sips which – I agree – could come from anywhere in the world.
Commerce however would disagree. Prices commanded have shown that Terroir is also part marketing and hype, sadly. Super Tuscans are now all the fad but the funny thing is that apart from in their names; I find few that have the local accent. Beefed up Bordeaux-style reds is not my idea of Terroir, no matter what the ticket price of these bottles may suggest. I am not saying that all are the same but I do feel a certain despair when tasting wines from a region which previously made some very Italian wines but today has succumbed to international tastes and churns out some rather drinkable but un-traditional stuff. And this is but a case in point. I can think of so many places and areas where Terroir comes in a distant second to commercial aspirations and marketing gimmickry.
All over the world, vines are creeping in and settling down, irrespective of what the local clime and soil may entail or advises. The good thing here is that such could give rise to new tastes and Terroirs – New Zealand Pinot is a great wine in its own right – but trouble erupts when certain people, instead of respecting this new local Terroir, try and emulate and replicate the older more-known style (Burgundy, in this case). I enjoy both the styles of wines and am happy to not compare them. They both have their own Terroir. Personally I may even have my favourites (particular houses, vintages, islands or villages) but that remains a personal choice and shouldn’t in any way bear down upon or reflect strongly on others’ choice-making abilities.
So I guess I am a Teroririst but without trying to Terro(i)rise anybody. Every place has its uniqueness. It may not always be as aptly suited for a certain grape or wine style but that’s how existence is: unfair (as some would call it) but I would choose the word, varied. Meaning then lies in exploring a lifetime worth of options and choices to see what works best in bringing out the true and purest expression of that uniqueness when left in the hands of mankind.