Terroir and Taste : Elements of the Earth in Wine
Terroir – this sense of somewhereness in wine – is imperative to Reininger’s style of wine making. Chuck’s love affair with geology is one of the reasons he became enthralled with wine making in the Walla Walla Valley and one of the reasons Reininger maintains its truly unique flavor profile. As I discussed in the last post, terroir is a difficult word to really define, but there are pieces that can be described to get a sense for the meaning. Here is a great scientific explanation of how the place affects the grapes which grow in it, from Wine Portfolio:
Some say that they can taste when a wine has a specific mineral in it, due to its high concentration in the soil. Botony, or the scientific study of plants, renders this argument rather moot, as, biologically; this is not how plants interact with their soils. A more progressive view takes the stance that terroir is not due to subsoil structure, but rather to drainage. Plant reproduction is based on the principle that if their environmental conditions are good, the plants will have vegetative growth. If the conditions are bad however, they will reproduce sexually, meaning the production of fruit. While this seems a little counterintuitive, viticulturalists aim to create an environment where they are harsh enough on their vines so that the production of fruit is emphasized, though not too restricting as to cause a mineral deficit, which would sabotage the ripening of the fruit. Restricting their environment causes the roots to grow deeper and more laterally in search of nutrients. The deeper the roots grow, the more constant their environment becomes with a reliable source of mineral and water supply. Having the deepest roots, this explains why old vines produce some of the best wine.
So what does terroir add to wine? Unlike honey, which can be controlled and gathered from bees visiting specific flower fields (lavender, chamomile, wildflower, etc.), wine does not pick up characteristics that directly. Terroir is, rather, the essence of place in any given year. Those fond memories of a warm day in Walla Walla sitting outside on the patio and enjoying the smells of fresh rain right before wheat harvest can be found in the bottle. The terroir can ad anything from minerality to a farmy quality to a subtle soil taste that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s the difference between a good, solid wine and a truly fantastic, very balanced, memorable wine.