Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"Terrroir-Driven" Wines vs. "Style-Driven" Wines

There are some interesting and divergent positions on wine style that I have been reading lately. Thanks to Caveman/William for stimulating the discussion.

Terroir-driven wines are often associated with wines of a "natural" style. By "natural", proponents mean wines with limited human intervention. That is, no additions of acid, tannin, concentrate, etc. Thus, the terroir (as it relates to the effects of climate anyway) remains unmasked.

Style-driven wines are wines where a winemaker strives to create wine of a certain style - typically a "New World" or riper style. Wines of this type are more likely to have less variation between vintages, utilize technology and post-harvest additions like those described above. These wines are also thought by critics to reveal less of their terroir as those subtleties are masked by the intervention.

If we were to count this as an election and votes equaled purchases, the Style-driven wines would win hands down. I mean would you want to buy apple pies from the lady at the farmer's market if you didn't know for certain if this week's batch would be as good as last week's? On the other hand, are terroir fans enjoying something that the rest of the masses are missing out on?

I've written about my feelings on "natural" winemaking before. Frankly, I don't think there is much "nature" left in a process that entails taking vines, long selected and bred for certain desirable characteristics, grafting them onto compatible rootstock, forcing them to grow onto a wire trellis, pruning them, pulling their leaves, blowing sulphur onto them, guarding their fruit from birds, plucking their ripe fruit, squeezing it, adding yeast, putting it into containers made from tree trunks, sometimes arresting fermentation to leave sweetness, and putting it in a barrel stopped with tree bark.....whew! Anyway, by this point I think wine is pretty much an artificial construct, even at its most basic and "natural" level. To start to split hairs over adding acid is, in my opinion, a bit much.

As for ideas like “[v]inification is the afterthought, it all happens in the vineyard”, I can say I have never met a vintner who believed this. Certainly what fruit you start with & how you grow it will be fundamental to your success, but if you’ll allow the simile of an oil painting - what you do in the vineyard will determine what you have to work with when you bring the fruit (oils, paint) into the cellar (canvas). But even so, vinification is the art (style, experience & ability) - it is the action which produces what we call ‘wine’. As an artist you want to procure the finest pigments and canvas that you can afford, and work very hard to see your fruit mature to it’s loftiest condition…all work is geared toward the final moment when all of it comes together, when we commit ourselves to the canvas…nothing – NOTHING –is an afterthought, regardless of which style you choose to follow. The ‘terroir driven’ wine is similar to abstract painting, while ‘style driven’ wines are more like realistic panoramas (some may insert 'fantasies' here). But each still involves some interpretation from the vintner to translate it into the final product.

Ultimately, however, I think this again boils down into another art vs. profit debate, and, as I've said before, if you're going to make wines to sell for profit, you will suffer the whims of the market. If you want to make wines of "integrity" - go for it - but don't complain later that you're not making any money at it. Do it for the "love of the game".

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