Welcome to sunny California! Home of Hollywood, surf culture and the winegrowing capital of the US. Our state accounts for most of US wine exports, but how do the wine regions of our state differ? For help decoding these differences, we look to the French concept of terroir.
Terroir has a vague and varied definition depending on who is giving it. On the surface, most say it is how a physical place is reflected in a glass of wine. Natural factors are key here. Things like climate, soil and geography are all natural factors of a place that are hard to change. That said, these factors can be manipulated using certain production methods (trellising, inoculation, oak aging, etc). Just as these factors can be covered up, they can also be exhibited more clearly by certain areas and producers.
There are a few key points to remember when talking about terroir.
Climate is different than vintage. Every region has good years and bad years based on the weather. But a region’s climate changes very little over time. Climatic influences include proximity to bodies of water, elevation and latitude – all things that remain constant. For example, here in So Cal, we still enjoy a largely Mediterranean climate – despite all our recent rain.
Soil is naturally occurring. Sediment layers are deposited over centuries to comprise a unique blend of soil types and other minerals and microbes. It’s this soil composition that defines a region, not artificial fertilizers.
Geography of the vineyard and surrounding areas affects the structure and ripeness of the grapes. One of the most important aspects of the vine’s local geography is slope. Slopes are crucial for optimizing a grapevine’s exposure to sunlight.
But Wait, There's More
Tradition can also play a huge role in defining the characteristics of a region’s wines. Without tradition, we may have a completely different understanding of how a region presents itself in the glass. Some traditions are deemed so important they are written into law (this is more common in the Old World). As such, these traditions tend to become another constant for an area. Thus they are often included in our understanding of terroir.
Sipping on Sunshine
What do you think? Can a place have a taste? Do California wines showcase terroir?
For our next workshop, we are on a mission to discover the terroir of 5 different California winegrowing regions. To help us on our quest, we’ll be enlisting the help of expressive Pinot Noir wines from each area. Special guest, small lot Pinot Noir expert and Certified Sommelier, Robin Flash-Boyle will also be there to guide our tasting. Areas of exploration will include Mendocino County, Sonoma, Napa, Monterey County & Edna Valley. Workshop will take place Saturday, April 8th from 2pm-4pm (tickets here).