Often times when you are wine tasting, especially many of the beautifully crafted Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Napa Valley, you may hear the tasting room staff or the winemaker refer to the term, terroir. Many people are not very familiar with the term nor its potential impact on our favorite wines.
What Terroir Means and Its Effect on the Winemaking Process
Essentially, Terroir is a French term for the characteristics in wine, tea, and coffee that come from their particular geography. Wineries might refer to the terroir when discussing the various appellations where their grapes are grown, and the specific characteristics those soils impart in their wines.
There is still some ambiguity as to what officially constitutes the term terroir, as varying definitions exist. In general, some general components include: soil type, climate, and topography. Human involvement also plays a part – including what types grapes are to be planted where, what strains of yeast to use, and whether or not to use oak when aging the wine. The concept of terroir is rooted deep in French winemaking processes and the base of the Appellation Control (AOC) System that has been a guide for wine laws and appellations throughout the entire world.
The Rutherford Dust Society
Drink many Napa Valley wines and one of the most common terroirs you might hear about “The Rutherford Dust”. Dust in your wine? This dust can turn an ordinary $25 Cabernet into a $125 award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon. The characteristics of the geography in Rutherford can result in some of the finest wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignons, to come from the Napa Valley.
While debate continues surrounding what elements comprise terroir and how influential they really are in determining the best wine regions, many vintners in Napa Valley strongly believe in the concept. Founded in 1994 by some local growers and vintners, The Rutherford Dust Society was created to continue the efforts of this institutional wine growing region. The Rutherford Dust Society’s mission is simply, “to encourage and promote the highest quality standards in grape growing and winemaking in the Rutherford Viticultural Area, and to help wine lovers and the wine trade discover Rutherford’s unique expression. Please join us in enjoying the fruits of our labor and in preserving the heritage and vineyards of Rutherford, in the Napa Valley.”
Although terroir is certainly more involved than presented here, it is an interesting element of wine education and worth learning more about. The next time you are wine tasting, be sure to pay attention to the various wines you taste – especially if the winery produces the same type of wine (i.e., Zinfandel) from different regions (Carneros, Napa Valley, etc). If you can, do a side-by-side tasting and remember to ask lots of questions. Tasting room staff are typically very knowledgeable and enjoy sharing information with those who are truly interested in learning more about the art of wine making.