Fixing terroir with a magic wand

If you could take a magic wand, wave it at your terroir, and change one thing, what would it be?

If you could take a magic wand, wave it at your terroir, and change one thing, what would it be?

This is the question I’ve been asking producers lately. I like it because it brings out the best and the worst in how they perceive their terroir, with a healthy dose of introspective honesty for producers in regions infamous for their refusal to admit to cultivating anything less than perfection.

More interesting than the merits of the question as it is asked, however, are the answers. In cool climates and in warm climates, the answer is effectively unchanged - cooler, wetter summers. Water stress is an increasingly dangerous problem that impacts quality in the glass just as much as it does the health of the vines.

Equally important, of course, is what is never said: no mention of clay or limestone, gravel or sand. In a world where this is the single most prominent aspect of terroir on tech sheets, in wine education or salesmanship. Of course, you could argue that this is a known constant, rather than a climate which tends to change and only ever gets worse!

Nor indeed has there been much mention of exposition, altitude, winds or absence thereof. I could of course conclude that these don’t matter much to vignerons, but I don’t think that’s it. I am certain that they do matter, that the consequences of one or the other shine even in a glass. Happy, rugged vignerons cradling lumps of clay in their hand is a common image, but how often are they seen peering at a thermometer or measuring wind speed? What time does the first ray of sunlight hit the vines on a hot August morning - and would the vigneron want it any other way?

I think that, actually, what these answers show is that physical terroir is not about quality. My question was inherently about change and improvement, and every answer related to a problem or something less-than-ideal. The global desire was to keep the soil and physical unchanged, and instead improve non-physical aspects of terroir, such as weather and climate.

If nothing else, I believe that this shows that while ‘good’ weather or climate, rain or sunshine is what determines quality and vintage variation (groundbreaking, I know!), physical terroir is rather more influential on style, and that heart-warmingly, most winemakers that I have the privilege of speaking to actually rather like the style that their terroir allows them, and enjoy making terroir-driven wines rather than fighting against what they have.