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Is this how Europe sees us?

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They gave us attendees to the Wine Writers Symposium last March a free copy of The World of Fine Wine, issue 30. I didn’t get around to reading it until just the other day, and a fine magazine it is indeed.

One of the columnists is David Schildknecht, who is part of Parker’s team. He wrote a piece on terroir which, unfortunately, I was unable to find online, so I can’t link to it here. There was nothing particularly new in it; it’s pretty standard stuff, if a bit stuffy to read. But it was interesting because David revealed a certain Eurocentric view in referring to “the one-time heartland of terroir denial, Northern California.”

It seems that David believes that, after a long period of insisting that terroir doesn’t exist or matter, California now “champions site-specificity,” proving that “a paradign shift has clearly occurred…What too you so long?” David asks California.

Let us now deconstruct these remarks so that we can prove their untruth. David offered no evidence that California has only lately stumbled into an embrace of terroir, other than an interview with Tony Soter, who no longer makes wine in California but rather in Oregon. Hence, it’s not at all clear why he feels that way, i.e., that 5, 10, 15, 20 or 30 years ago California pooh-poohed the notion of terroir. (David cites Matt Kramer as having discovered the importance of place 20 years ago.) I mean, really, this is not only silly, it’s disrespectful of decades of history. Look at the boutique era for proof that the founding fathers of the modern wine period understood terroir perfectly well, even if they didn’t feel it necessary to use a Frenchified word for it. Did such pioneers as Donn Chappellet and Al Brounstein not pick their mountains for terroir purposes? They did. Did Josh Jensen not travel the state looking for limestone before he created Calera on Mount Harlan? He did. Did Patrick Campbell choose the vertiginous slopes of Sonoma Mountain because he knew it would make ageworthy Cabernet Sauvignon? Yes. Did the daring vintners who planted vineyards on the far Sonoma Coast not have a passionate dedication to terroir before they tackled that forbiddingly harsh region? They did. Was the late Jess Jackson unaware of “a sense of place” when he bought and developed the Verite and Stonestreet properties, high up on Alexander Mountain? He was not. Did Sir Peter Michael choose his spot high on Mount St. Helena by accident? No.

All these pathfinders sought terroir, and I could go on and on citing others who knew exactly what they wanted in a piece of dirt and then went on to realize it. Northern California, or California in general, has never been a bastion of terroir denial. We can agree on that. So what would lead David to say it was? Here we have to get inside the man’s head. There are several reasons, I think. One is the standard old European bias against California, and more broadly against the U.S., that we are a collection of idiotic boobs with no taste or discernment. Another reason is because there’s been a very tight little in-group of European wine writers and MWs who talk only to themselves–and they tend to be insulated and perpetuate the same myths over and over. The reason David doesn’t know that California has always been aware of and in search of the greatest terroir is because he doesn’t read people like me. I could have told him so a long time ago and prevented him from writing something so patently vapid. And a final reason may simply be the Francophilia that so many European wine writers feel in their bones–a belief that may not even be conscious, that only Old Europe can have true terroir, that all coastal California is, is a western extension of the Central Valley.

No, California’s great winemakers know perfectly well what terroir is. They always have. Nothing “took them so long.” What “took so long” has been for David to finally grasp that California “gets it.” Well,  better late than never!

  1. James McCann says:

    And if you go back even further, was André Tchelistcheff just lucky when he picked sites for BV to plant Cab (Rutherford) and Pinot(Carneros)? – I like David’s reviews, but this sounds like he’s pandering to his European buddies.

  2. James McCann says:

    And Louis Martini for that matter…

  3. Is this another example of sour grapes (pun intended) on the part of the Euros as they lose more market share, especially top Bordeaux wines, to home-grown wines here in the USA?
    Is the author trying to convince himself or possibly the new markets in Japan, India, and most importantly, China that Old World wines are still superior to the relatively new California wines?

    I don’t like that Bordeaux prices continue to stay high, even more so because certain wines are being bought for showing, not drinking, as they are seen as a “status symbol” for the new elite in Asia. Perhaps they need to have a blind tasting of their own similar to the “Judgement of Paris” to see what the rest of the world has to offer.

    Another thought – France better enjoy the Asian windfall while they can. It’s just a matter of time before China finds their own suitable terrior and establishes wineries that make a quality product rather than the somewhat decent to horrible wine they now make. I’m sure thae the process has already started as the Chinese have already bought a few lesser Chateau in Bordeaux and are probably learning at a serious pace.

  4. The quest for terroir is not a conscious, rational, objective process. It is a complex natural/historical process that emerges via a combination of soils, grape varieties and cultural grape-growing and winemaking practices, chosen by trial and error, which evolve along the course of time.
    It is not feasible to “seek” terroir because there is no optimal solution to this mathematically intractable question. It is a complex non-linear problem that demands a collectivity of brains, multiple trials and time to be solved.
    On the other hand, there is, definitely, terroir in California when it comes to its historically important (dry-farmed/head-trained/low-yielding?) grape varieties: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Mission, Grenache, Mataro, etc., and more recently, through a pragmatic cosmopolitan approach, Cabernet Sauvignon.

  5. Michael says:

    To Bill Stephenson: The Lafite Group bought a piece of land in China over two years ago with the hopes of supplying mainland china down the road. I guess they found the right terroir.

    To all: RE Bordeaux versus Cali right now. The Pavie et al group of bordeaux seems to be the furthest from terroir France has ever gone. French wines are still terroir-based but there are plenty of WA popular wines which no longer try to speak of place rather of points, or goop.

    And I certainly agree with Steve RE Calera. I am in the biz and have asked an experience Cali brand manager for the one wine from Cali that screams terroir. Calera was the first and fast name to pop up. While Calera may be a rare gem, they are certainly not an exception to the Cali rule.

    Of course the bulk of Cali wine is terroir-less, the crap that ends up on sale for $7.99 at the grocery store. But it’s the same in grocery stores in France too.

    Whatever.
    Michael P

  6. Well isn’t Schildknecht a fellow American of yours? There is certainly no reason to project the cliché “the standard old European bias..against the U.S.” –so much much more often borne of American insecurity than actual intent– when you argument quite well for a long California history of terroir appreciation.

    The huffy ‘us against everyone else’-tone is the least charming U.S. trait.

  7. Tobias:
    I’m Danish but live in Berkeley, CA. As a relatively newborn wine enthusiast with a preference for Californian wine it has been a surprising discovery for me to experience how well the eurocentric attitude thrives among my fellow European winelovers – on so many levels. I think I was blind to that when I lived in Europe. And it has become an objective to me to try to share the knowledge and love I have for Californian wine. If nothing else, just to add nuances to what people think they know about Californian wine (and ‘New World wine’ in general for that matter).

  8. george kaplan says:

    We had an impeccable bottle of ’74 Martha’s on Christmas. Besides the perfectly mature First Growth quality, it struck me that its character reminded me a lot of the great Telistcheff BV Private Reserves of the 60s, which I got to taste numerous times at the Heublein Auctions in the 80s. There’s a similarity also to the Mondavi Reserves. All Rutherford-Oakville bench, yes, but there’s a continuity of craft, the Telischeff line through Joseph Heitz and Robert Mondavi.I believe in those days the elevage of these Cabernets was based in the older Euro model of longer aging, some in larger casks, which Heitz still follows. Here we tended to emphasize people( Heitz, Mondavi, Andre, David Bruce, Grgich) more than place, though the winemakers knew where the best grapes came from.
    If you’re a wealthy second-career person you’re more likely to want to get your own specific place and make something that speaks to you than to buy grapes even from Andy Beckstoffer.
    I’m sure writers like Schildkraut know who their audience is and are doing their best to hold onto what’s left of it.
    Please take it as a compliment that I say rants are not your style, even if you’re good at them.

  9. Mr. Kaplan – Yes, but what are your thoughts on more recent, say mid-80s to present, vintages of Napa cabs?

  10. James McCann says:

    George – 68, 69 and 70 were all stunning GLTs, I wish I’d had the opportunity to taste other vintages.

  11. george kaplan says:

    Beaulieu’s 64, 65 , 66, and 68 were splendid in 1983. Around 1982 I tasted the 1941 Inglenook:the colleague I was tasting with used a two-word alliteration of which the first word was ” pure”.The only cabernets I’ve kept up with are Mondavis and Heitz’s.( and some Insignia, possibly the year to year best bet in high end Cab, but they’re all too expensive now) Mondavi has great grape sources and their cabs aged very well through the turn of the century. I find the new regime’s style more modern than I like. Heitz had a rough patch in the 80s( TCA in the winery?) and had to replant Bella and Martha’s in the 90s. I had a lot of magnums of Martha’s and Bella from the 80s and they all aged beautifully. The 1999 Martha’s will be in the class of the 1974 and 1985: it’s in the somewhat atypical creamy St-Julien style of the 1985: it’s big and powerful but lean in a Bordeaux way and supple and beautifully balanced and should age with grace forever. I think they’ve walked the line fairly well but I’d like to see a little less alcohol in general, and a little more refreshing acidity. BTW, when was the last time you heard a cabernet or Bordeaux described as refreshing? Maybe as the vines mature.I find mountain cabernet often too much of a good thing. The 1994 Rubicon was excellent: more recently not so much, too soft and heady, like so many modern cab, regardless of source.
    On the other hand Burgundy has been the bomb for twenty years and counting. Corton is the best value for money anywhere.

  12. I believe Hugh Johnson speaks about a truly great (red) wine needing to be refreshing.

  13. I’m a wine writer based in Copenhagen, Denmark, and I’m happy to report that neither I nor any professional colleague I can think of (be that Asian, American, European etc.) cares the slightest bit about the geographical origin of a wine – beyond that of the terroir’s manifestation in the sensory expression of the product.

    I’m used to drinking mostly European wine, which then obviously influences my aesthetic preference. It is not a choice. It is by cultural bias. When I list the qualities that to me make a great wine, I simply don’t find any (or very few, at least) Californian wines to match them. I wish it weren’t so, and I’m very conscious about challenging that assumption – so far to no great avail.

    If simply listening to my gut feeling about what to me is enjoyable or even beautiful and by a lifetime of trial and error ending up preferring some French or Italian or German og Austrian regions to California is Eurocentric, then I guess that’s what I am.

    When we – in Europe – used to think of Californian wine as less based on terroir, perhaps it had to do with the tradition of varietal branding that until recently was not the usual European way of communicating the quality of a wine.

    No doubt Californian vineyard sites have been meticulously sought out and chosen for very specific reasons, as you so clearly argue. But if the wine is then marketed as a Cabernet or Chardonnay – by stating the varietal in large letters on the front label (I suppose it’s as simple as that) – is it then not easy to think that the wine is the winemaker’s attempt at an expression of the varietal stated, rather than of the terroir which would sometimes be found only on the back label? Just off the top of my head, that would be my guess.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but is geography not gaining space on Californian wine labels these days? Still with less prominant exposure than the varietal, but in certain recognition of the fact that no grape makes a wine without the right terroir to bach it up. Of course, any Californien winemaker knows that. It’s just not what he or she used to communicate.

  14. Before the wine boom of the 1970s-80s-90s California wineries struggled to get their premium products any significant attention from an American audience. That’s why you would find a “line” of varietals–Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rose, etc.–from each winery trying to snag a rare customer for one of them from a largely beer, spirits and Pepsi drinking populace.

    When premium winemaking took hold, the object of winemakers was not to express their terroir, but to express their varietal–a completely different objective. The results of this emphasis over the past three decades are riper and more exaggerated fruit, more alcohol and the blurring of any distinctions of the taste of a place. Today the only terroir I can discern in California is the taste of Paso Robles–but their wines are so overripe I can’t tell what varietal I’m drinking.

    Then there is the issue of wine serving the meal–but that’s a subject for another time.

  15. Dear Rasmus, I will correct you. Geography is not “gaining space on Californian wine label these days.” The Federal laws have been in place for 30 years regarding geographical designations. They have not changed. A knowledge of Federal law is necessary in order to properly understand a label. But then, that is true throughout Europe. Regarding varietal labeling, it is perhaps true that some winemakers choose to be able to state a variety (which has to be 75%) at the expense of complexity. But not all, and certainly at the highest levels we don’t see that. Anyway, varietal content is assumed in French law. A red Burgundy must be 100% Pinot Noir even if the label doesn’t say Pinot Noir. Same for Chardonnay. I don’t see any difference between French law and American law, in that sense.

  16. DAVID SHILDKNECHT’S RESPONSE –in case you’re interested

    Steve, found Mr. Shildknecht’s response over in LAST blog entry (Unusual weather…) –i cut and pasted entire response — hope you don’t mind — it was lost over there.

    David Schildknecht says:
    June 2, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Just to clarify, the piece of mine to which you refer (a column that appeared in The World of Fine Wine) – leaving completely aside whether or not it was “stuffy” or “standard stuff” – dealt with a prevalent tendency to take the emphasis on terroir to a point where, to quote my lead sentence (as you did in part):

    “As if captured by terroirist crews, vintners are increasingly in thrall to the notion of cru. When vineyard classification becomes epidemic; when that bastion of blends, Champagne, or one-time heartland of terroir denial, Northern California, champion site-specificity, a paradigm shift has clearly occurred. An obvious thing to say if your perspective is that of the Mosel or Burgundy: ‘What took you so long to get it?’ A cynic might equally obviously observe that today ‘terroir sells.’”

    My point, then, had to do with taking the concept of privileged microclimate or cru to a possibly self-defeating extreme – which is why I titled it “Captives of the Cru” – and as such it was an attempt to put the brakes on a possibly runaway terroir train.

    I singled-out an old interview with Tony Soter because it highlights the tension between the goal of making the most complex wine one thinks possible and the goal of making a wine that (at least allegedly) reflects in flavor the character of a particular site. This is a tension that seems to me implicit in wine making practices for most of the last century and all across the globe, but which doesn’t get much talked-about. (For a paradigmatic example, just compare France’s two most famous wines – Bordeaux and Burgundy – as they have evolved over the past hundred or so years.) In late-20th century French wine growing tradition, I cite the Chave paradigm – highly influential outside France, too – of blending across sites, in order to try to demonstrate that the tension Soter describes resolves itself provided you don’t carry the notion of cru to an extreme level of specificity. Blending across sites and microclimates makes for a more complex and aesthetically satisfying wine, but that doesn’t mean the result fails to reflect a place, in this instance the Hermitage Hill.

    Having had the privilege to taste great California wines from and ’60s and ’70s – in fact, it was tasting a trio of young 1968 Napa Cabernets (as I have many times before written) that inspired me to a career in wine – and to eventually meet many of the pioneers who were responsible for them, I am well aware that like any wine growers who achieve greatness, they placed great importance on site selection. But my column was about how the eventual wine is blended and then marketed. And here, single vineyard identity or the selling of wine by means of the terroir “sizzle” was prized by a few (e.g. Al Braunstein, Bennion & Draper) but most preferred to emphasize their blending skills, and many of the finest Napa Cabernets were quite widely-sourced. (Many still are, including such quality benchmarks as one of my own long-time favorites, Cathy Corison’s – and of course it’s true that Cathy was influenced by Tony Soter.)

    As to my use in this context of “terroir denial,” there are still legions of wine professionals including those tasked with and paid large sums to assist winery owners in site selection and vine care who are in an important sense terroir deniers, that is, they are unwilling to accept the notion that soil type has a direct influence on the aromas and flavors of the resultant wine. I do think that it is ultimately, at some level, contradictory to emphasize the importance of site in terms of achieving certain quantifiable results such as yields, optimum sugar, acid, and pH levels yet to deny soil a qualitative role in flavor. But all you have to do is talk to people like Australian soil scientist Robert White; viticulturalist Richard Smart; or geologist and site selection advisor Johnathan Swinchatt – quite possibly the three internationally most influential experts in their respective fields – to discover how deep skepticism about terroir runs. (I made discussions with these people and of this issue the subject of another column.) And the legions of skeptics tend to be disproportionally non-European, just as the legions of wine folk who seem willing to credit the soil with almost mysterious powers or who accept terroir as an act of faith rather than a subject amenable to scientific scrutiny tend to be disproportionally “Old World.”

    What I also had in mind with the phrase “terroir denial” was the revolution that I have witnessed during my long career in the marketing California wine. I started out selling wine in 1978, and for at least the next dozen years – naturally, with allowing for exceptions such as Diamond Creek and Ridge – the emphasis in marketing California wine was on the talents of the winemaker and the extent to which clement weather guaranteed ripe fruit. I’m sorry that I don’t have a collection of advertisements or other old winery promotional literature I can call upon to supply a lot of examples, but the significance of soil and microclimate was virtually ignored, and to the extent terroir or soil were referenced, this was to point to their being the conceptual refuges of European growers who had the misfortune of only being able to get their fruit ripe in some years but not others and/or who wanted to elevate flaws or the absence of pure fruit to a virtue. So yes, California marketing in those days largely ignored or pooh-poohed terroir. And it’s not as though this were an entirely baleful thing. California did much to help teach the rest of the world to more highly value homogeneous fruit ripeness; fault-free vinification; and the role of the “wine maker” (a concept that didn’t even exist in most wine cultures before the late 20th century). Anyway, now – as I tried to claim – the pendulum has swung to an opposite extreme in its focus on selling the concept of cru and terroir.

    Just to site one especially obvious illustration of my point, the 1983 article debunking “terroir” by Bill Jekel in the UK magazine Decanter and the subsequent debate in those pages between him and Bruno Pratts was one of the most-discussed and further written-about topics by wine commentators of the day. Exactly 10 years later (here I actually saved and so am refreshing my memory with a full-page color ad from Wine & Spirits magazine, copyright Jekel Vineyards, 1993) a color photo of rocks takes up 80% of the page in a Jekel advertisement whose text seeks to assure readers that “gritt [sic.] and stone” build “depth of character” in the resultant wines.

    Jekel’s Pauline conversion is simply symptomatic, though I grant one would have to research old advertisements, wine journals, and winery literature to make this historical point convincingly – a bit of research I’ll try to undertake one of these days. During the 1970s and 1980s, famous single-vineyard wines were often marketed without emphasis on the importance of site. If you ever got into a verbal jousting match with the “maker” of Martha’s Vineyard on this subject as I recall having had when he visited my DC shop in the early ’80s, you would have been left in no doubt about the relative importance of man versus site. Or consider that pioneer in Californian Pinot Noir, Hanzell. Their promotional emphasis was on the source of their vines and the allegedly “Burgundian” cellar methods. In reality, Brad Webb’s methods and equipment were quite innovative and had little to do with Burgundy but had simply, literally, been clothed by owner James Zellerbach in a Burgundian “look” by replicating the Medieval Clos Vougeot press house.

    Most of what you wrote seems poorly-informed about my positions on terroir which – whether or not they are either novel or ultimately defensible – have certainly been a focus of my writing for more than a decade, and simply beside the point of the article from which you quoted.

  17. Vinogirl says:

    Great post.
    I believe there is a European bias against Californian wines…I see it every time I travel home to England.

  18. Interesting stuff but so many misconceptions.

    I don’t have all night to write a rebutal, and no one has all night to read it, but let’s just take Cathy Corison for example.

    She makes two very good Cabernets. One is a blend from several sites. The other is, in fact, a vineyard-designated wine called Kronos that comes from a patch just north of her winery. So, in the first place, Schildknecht is wrong already.

    But then there is this. Ms. Corison chooses to buy her grapes from very specific sites on the West Rutherford Bench that have a very particular soil type. While she is not making them as individual vineyard designates, she is very specifically trying to capture “terroir” by choosing sites that have commonality of soil type, exposure, climate. In that way, she has a design, an objective, a goal of a certain character in mind.

    Most assuredly, her “blend” is an expression of terroir, of place.

  19. A few considerations regarding Mr. Schildknecht’s comment:
    1) “Terroir” is a much broader concept than the vineyard’s site and it’s mesoclimate (as opposed to “microclimate”, which is the climate at the plant level), and involves every single aspect of wine production, from site selection (climate, mesoclimate, soils, aspect, exposure, etc.) to pruning, training, canopy management, water regimes, grape yields, grape varieties, winemaking practices, etc., viewed from a dynamic, stochastic and historical perspective;
    2) Dr. Richard Smart is not, IMHO, a “terroir denier” as can be verified below, in an excerpt from his article “Terroir Unmasked” (winebusiness.com; 06/15/2004):
    “Why might the Europeans have a better understanding of terroir effects than their New World counterparts? I believe that there are good reasons for this. One of the most obvious is that winemaking experience is limited on many New World sites, often to less than a generation. Contrast this to the common situation in the Old World, where winemaking experiences with specific vineyard sites have often been accumulated over many generations, and can be measured sometimes in centuries.
    “However, irrigation as practiced in the New World is probably the single most important reason why terroir differences are not well appreciated. Soil differences, which affect vine water supply, are diminished in their effect when irrigation is used. However, when vines are grown without irrigation, as is the case in much of Europe, then soil properties which affect water supply to the vine are all the more obvious. So the concept of “terroir” is more emphasized.

  20. As a European, I feel embarrassed by fellow Europeans denigrating or looking down on Californian and other new world wine-producing regions just because they’re not European. Denying that terroir exists outside Europe is just too silly to merit a reply. I can only imagine (cynically) that they do it for self-serving interests (ie, status, marketing, sales in Asia, etc) because as you show in your post, historically and factually, they haven’t got a leg to stand on. Obviously there are good quality terroir-driven wines in California just as there are in Europe, and there is lots of volume-based industrially produced table wine in California, just as there is in Europe!
    I think that you (Californians) are now carrying baggage of your own making, ie you have analyzed and industrialized and reduced wine-making to a mere technical process that can be carried out by chemists, organic biologists, scientists and process managers, etc. Like making a barbeque sauce! A bit of analysis and chemistry is not necessarily a bad thing in general (especially considering the opaque, secretive mysterious practices going on in old style European wineries!), but perhaps the pendulum has swung too far, and a bit of art and irrationality are necessary too.

  21. mike lane says:

    Europe has a many centuries headstart on defining terroir, and rigidly control grape variety allowed, planting and harvest techniques, minimum must weights, etc. to insure that wines from a specific region will usually have similar taste profiles. Califronia and the rest of the new world allow a much greater flexibility for trial and error. Thoughts of new emphasis on terroir probably stem from new and proposed AVA’s, such as along the Sonoma Coast, that are becoming smaller and more more varietal specific.

  22. David Schildknecht says:

    Charlie Olken is also missing my point in the column in question and again in my response to Steve’s article. I am well aware that Cathy Corison has made a single-vineyard wine – albeit in small quantities – ever since she bought the property on Highway 29 on which she built her winery. I was referring to her flagship wine since day one, simply known as Napa Cabernet. And of course Cathy is not only particular about the sources for this wine but they have been relatively constant. That’s why its an example of the Soter model of blending across different sites to create the tastiest wine one can rather than responding to a felt obligation to reflect in the bottle the character of a specific site. To repeat, my column was about the concept of the cru and the extent to which wines are vinified and marketed as reflecting a particular site.

    My reference to California as a “ONE-TIME bastion of terroir-denial” (emphasis to call attention to that qualification) was intended to point to historical tendencies in how most California winemakers conceived of their wines, at least before the 1990s; how viticulturalists, oenologists and other wine scientists conceived and to a some extent still conceive of them; and – most of all – to how the wines were marketed, which strikes me as radically different today (and with possibly excessive use of the word “terroir” and focus on single-vineyard identity) than it was in the 1970s and 1980s.

  23. Richard says:

    The Europeans, and especially the French, I believe, are still reeling over the Judgment of Paris – they can’t believe their beloved wines lost, and in most cases, continue to lose (ground) to California wines. And, suspect, that this 1976 event is when the California wineries and winemakers started to pay attention to terroir. Obviously, as is pointed out, the “fathers of California wine” realized the potential of the acreage when they first planted grapes, and one would presume that some of the first settlers to Napa way back in the 18th century who planted grapes had a sense of the “terroir” though that is not likely what they called it.

    As to the “Eurocentric” nature of Europeans, of course – but Californians are also “Calicentric.” Just as many Oregonions are “Oregecentric.” The French likely prefer French wine; Italians, Italian wine; Spanish, Spanish wines; etc. I don’t believe it’s so much a bias as it is that’s what they’ve grown up with and it’s familiar. There are very few people I know in California (outside the wine writers/critics) who are not Calicentric or people I know in Europe who are not “Frenchcentric” Italocentric, etc. But, perhaps I’m incorrect and it is a mean-spirited attempt to marginalize California wine.

  24. We should talk about this.

  25. Mr. Berger! Absolutely. Always my pleasure. When and how?

  26. The ultimate influence in a great bottle of wine must always be the primary ingredient — grapes! And, grapes must reflect their birthplace — the vineyards!

  27. This is an interesting post…I think in about a 100 years, at the present rate of blogging and magazining, we may have some workable, understandable definition for terroir.

    I think Mr. Schildknecht’s article has caught on something worth talking about but then misses an explanation that seems obvious.

    It is always about telling the right story to SELL wine. Steve effectively refutes the Johnny-come-lately notion of terroir to which Schildknecht alludes, but this is less relevant than is the fact that we all look for some way to differentiate our product from the guy down the road; or the guy across the Ocean.

    We don’t have the place history that Europe does, so we call the wine after the grape; in 1976 California begins to show the world that quality can be found here too even if the wines are “only” a product of a variety.

    30 years later (earlier for just a few wines), we begin the process of giving a shout out to a particular site. If you strip it all down, it’s because we have found it advantageous from a selling perspective. Sure, there are site differences, but I’d contend that the anointing of a place is more about the verb and reverb of story (and the opinions of a relative few gatekeepers) than it is about underlying geology, row orientation, and the like.

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