Truth in Terroir

According to Terroir is defined as: the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype, including unique environment contexts, farming practices and a crop’s specific growth habitat.

What does this have to do with wine you may be thinking, well the simple answer is, EVERYTHING!

Vines need only 3 things to thrive, Light/heat from the sun for photosynthesis, water and nutrients which is obtained from the soil it is planted in.  These three factors have a lot to do with the final product.  However, it depends on how the winemaker handles the grapes after harvest.

There are many vessels that can be used in the winery that do not impart flavors to the wine.  These are known as inert vessels.  Many wineries today are switching to the use of concrete eggs for this reason.

These eggs are quite often lined with epoxy on the inside so as to not impart any flavors to the wine; however it does add some character and texture which affects the mouthfeel of the wine.

I will touch on a few of the wines that I had the opportunity to try and the Truth in Terroir seminar I recently attended at the Vancouver International Wine Festival.

A great example of this was in the Switchback Organic Pinot Gris from Haywire Vineyards in British Columbia.  This wine is dry, vibrantly and unfiltered.  For a white wine this wine is very savory and not fruit driven like you would expect.  It spends 11 months on the gross lees, goes through full malolactic fermentation, and is made from a bunch of gris’.  This wine is versatile, bone dry and picked early which allows it to have fresher acidity.  It carries a texture which represents the fresh glacial environment it is grown in.

Haywire prides itself on making natural, oak free, additive free wines.

Lambrusco dates back to the Roman times 2000 years ago.  Originally cultivated from the wild vines, much like Pinot Noir, made by the natives in the area.  Lambrusco means with a strong acidity.  The main things to pick out in this wine are the protonols and the high acidity in this wine.  This particular variety can be dry or sweeter in the more commercially produced versions and will leave your mouth feeling dry and cleansed, great for cleansing the palate between courses.  Lambrusco is always drink now as it can lose it’s freshness over time.

My favorite of the two wines presented was the Lambrusco del “Fondatore” or the founders method.  This wine is made from the Sorbara grape in the classic method.  The area that this wine comes from is rich in sandy soil, and that also shows on the palate.  The effervescents attack your palate in a fun way, and the texture adds elegance to this wine.  The flavors om the palate are dominated by Cherry and Strawberry.

Buy now, Drink now Viva l’Italia!

Leyda is is a relatively new region for wine exploration in Chile.  Terroir Hunter Began 12 years ago with the purpose of developing wines that really show a a sense of place.  Terroir Hunter represents about 13 wines of different varietals.  The essence of this project is to show Terroir.  Leyda is one of the best regions to show terroir through Pinot Noir.  The region that this wine is from has a lot of chalky clay soils and benefits from a maritime influence that brings out a gentle mineral nuance to this wine.  There is a scent of sea shells and morning mist that is very relaxing and transcendent on the nose and palate.  I would class this wine has a happy place wine.

Leyda is on the coast between mountains in a region in San Antonia Valley, 7 km from coast.  You can see the ocean from some of the vineyards and this region has a cool climate with the coastal influence.  There is lots of morning fog that burns off throughout the day that allows slow ripening.

This allows the Pinot Noir to develop Savory notes, cherry, and there is even some salinity (the scent/flavor of the salty sea air) to be found on the nose and palate.  The Clay soil found in the area allows for great water retention.  Dry area irrigation is used and roughly 450 millimeters of rain a year.  Granitic soil with some clay is predominant in this area and that allows for great drainage which helps the grapes to mature more fully.

This wine spends 11 months in french oak.  Oak is used very subtly as it can take away from the sense of place if it is over used.

This wine would pair nicely Oysters, Shell fish or perhaps with a Rabbit dish such as terrine or Con fit.

 Mendoza is a large region with a lot of different variety in terrain, elevation and soil type.  Mendoza is a mountain region and most vineyards are at a high elevation and has over 300 days of sun in a year.  It’s easy to let the grapes long and to make wine that pleases the customer, but this does not allow for the wine to show place.  Grapes that are picked earlier show a stronger sense of place, but it’s risky to do.  Altos Las Hormigas knows that this is a crazy practice but that’s how they started.  So far this has been successful for them and thus they continue to do it.

While Malbec has never been strongly viewed as a terroir wine they are starting to change that.

Due to recent change sin climate the risk of frost has declined so that makes Malbec more commercially viable.  As long as the market keeps responding they can keep dreaming.

Gualtallary (pictured above) comes from a small village that sits at 1,400 meters above sea level.  They make this area work as it has a micro terroir and quite a diversity of soil types.  On Terroir they still want the fruit and floral aspect of the wine to show.  They do not correct the acidity as this helps it to express the terroir.  Terroir really shows a more articulate wine and more savoriness.  Wine is drank with food in this region  and is not a sipping wine.

This wine shows an irony minerality and is planted on Calcium Carbonate and Sandy Soil that really comes through on the palate.  The altitude also plays a big role in the climate that adds an underbrush flavor to the wine.

This wine is aged in Botte or Foudre (A big cask with thicker staves and less oxygen than smaller barrels) and the barrels are made with un-toasted staves.  The bigger barrels add tension and back bone to the wine.

Production of Gualtallary was started in 2012 and has great potential moving forward to be a terroir driven wine.

Joan Cusine brought us a fabulous wine representing terroir from Parés Balta, the Amphora Roja Natural wine.

This wine is organically farmed and biodynamic.  The day I drank it was a carrot day according to that calendar.

This wine is a miro cuveé from 82 year old vines of the Xarel·lo grape.  This is one of the classic grapes used in Cava production, but is lesser known for this because it is less available to Cava producers due to small production.  Xarel·lo gives this wine and other wines it is used in more capacity to be aged.

The vineyards that this wine come from are the oldest vineyards in the Parés Balta family.  This appellation is next to the sea and sits at 800 – 900 feet above sea level allow it to have an influence on the wine.

This grape is grown on bush vines, which sit low to the ground and no irrigation is used.

I think what really makes this wine special is that it’s winemakers are both women!  The two women involved are Marta Casas and Maria Elena Jimenez.  Joan Cusiné’s wife and daughter!

This wine was first made in 2002 when they found 8 ovens on the property that were used for baking Amphoras.  These were used by the Iberians before the Romans came 2000 years ago to ship wine, oil and wheat.  Today they use these Amphoras a long with others they have purchased to age the wine.

Roja is Spanish for clay.  In particular, the clay amphoras used here are great because they do not impart any flavours into the wine.  Vinification has been done in the Amphoras and 0 sugar has been added.  Only natural yeast is used as well to help maintain the integrity of the wine.  This wine also sees no skin contact.

Another success to note is the this wine is recognized by the DO in Spain, and undergoes a panel judging every year to maintain that status.

Boasting white fruit and banana on the nose.  On the palate you will find the white fruit again with over tones of banana, melon and white peach with a lingering finish of toasted almond that keeps calling you back.

I recommend this wine with Seafood, risotto and grilled fish.  It would also make a great apéritif with some almonds and cheese.


Special thanks to all the Panelists on this Event:

Matias Barros, North American Sales and Marketing Director, Undurraga

Joan Cusiné, Proprietor, Perés Baltà / Gratavinum

Matt Dumayne, Chief Winemaker, Haywire

Thomas Grootveldt, Export Manager, Cleto Chiarli

Anotonio Morescalchi, Founder, Altos Los Homigas

Special thanks to the Event Coordinator and Emcee: Mark Shipway