Alan Goldfarb penned an interesting article this past Monday about winemakers & vitculturists sitting down in Napa to see if they could pinpoint some “real regional diversity” within (and between) the AVA’s there. And much like the same exercise recently performed with the Carneros region, reveal that perhaps much of the industry hype about the differences may be overblown.
This, of course, is all based on the premise that terroir does indeed exist, and that it will manifest “distictivity” in wines produced from one end of such a small area to the other…notwithstanding the fact that it (terroir) still remains undefined within both the industry and the public’s mind…
And that is the biggest problem with this topic as a whole: the French - God bless them! - invented a term so vague that the rest of the world (being dissatisfied with the lack of definition given it by it’s creators) has ended up spending generations holding discussions about what its current impressions of what those differences and distinctions SHOULD BE, rather than come up with a solid platform to work from (e.g., define what those perceptions really are).
What I do like about the topic is that it seems to breakdown the long held ideals in wine culture that drastic differences (“distinctivity” if you will) in wines is due to influences in site and soil over say a distance of a few thousand yards (it’s an awkward measurement, but it’s an old Navy habit I can’t seem to let go of). This is of course, inherited viniculture from our European roots, but has to date more to do with romantic (read “15th century”) land rights, alchemy and aristocracy than any scientific agricultural hypotheses. “Regionality” should by its word construction alone be about something larger, and I find it increasingly disturbing to see people assuming (not necessarily in this tasting panel mind you, but in general) that an attempt to apply it to small nearby vineyards, sometimes even adjacent vineyards, would be appropriate or even remotely successful. What is being tasted at that level is variations in viticulture and winemaking styles, not soil nor regionality.
Some of the nuggets of the article are as follows:
* There still seem to be some winemakers who go out and literally “taste the soil” as Pam Starr (Crocker & Starr winery) stated she does when “she’s intimate with her earth.” (Way too much information, Pam!) Goldfarb writes that she stated…
“I like to call myself a ‘soil translator.’ I don’t like the word ‘terroir’,” she said. “I try not to adjust too much, but (to) bring you sexy fruit. … I make clay patties and taste the soil. I try to make sure I apply (winemaking) to the soil profile.”
(Kudos that she doesn’t like the term terroir, but “soil translator”? That begs the idea that soil needs some interpretation by humans, and as I have written many times, soil is only third-order in the climate/terroir equation. Seriously, this is an ancient practice going back to the Romans. Cato wrote (ca. 100 BC) about trying to swirl soil and water around to make a solution and then taste it to see if it was too acidic. But then again, that was long before concepts about pH – and certainly before litmus tests! – were ever dreamed up or understood how they affect agriculture. And I would question the validity of any conclusions drawn from such a behavior other than the gross observation “it tastes like dirt”…we just don’t have the receptors needed on our tongues for anything beyond that! I think I stopped making mud pies when I was 5 or 6 years old…)
* I think it ridiculous that Doug Hill would think his Merlot would exemplify terroir while his Cab didn’t. Other than problems or variation within the vinting, where would the cause for that lie? And I find I disagree with his assessment of needing to be less ripe to see terroir…
* Bob Levy (Harlan): “It’s quite the opposite. As we wait, I think we get better expressions of site.” I would tend to agree more with his side of the argument: all under-ripe fruit has a tendency to taste “green”, although I would be the first to point out that over-ripe fruit all tastes like raisins and usually has a “cooked” or “burnt” flavor running though it. Ideally, there is a window of opportunity for all vineyards for best expression, which generally falls around (my experience) 24.3°B though that varies with vintage and area being grown in. I thought Levy was on a roll, but he lost me here:
““When I think of terroir versus vinification, the character of the wine expresses the terroir, not just the dirt but the people and all the decisions made,” stated Levy unequivocally.” (My bolding of the text…)
Overall, I think the outcome of the article backs up my claim that creating more and more sub-AVA's and sub-sub-AVA's are doing more harm than good by creating confusion where none need be introduced.
Read the article here [Just What are the AVA Distinctions
of Napa Valley Cabernet?]
Labels: authentic, marketing, terroir