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TUESDAY TRIBUTES
04/12/2016
Terroir Is Not A Myth

By Charles Olken

Let’s face it. Terroir is not a myth. It just does not exist. Terroir is a construct intended to explain why wine has certain characteristics. It is a lot like believing in religion or aging wine in pyramids or biodynamics. Either you believe or you don’t, but you can’t prove the argument one way or the other and thus terroir does not exist despite my belief in it.

Now, to be clear, the arguments about terroir are pretty tiring because they are all too often rooted in mysticism. Terroir explains everything, so the argument goes. No need for variety to be part of the equation because site is the answer.

Well, I can’t buy that scientifically yet I believe—to an extent, that is. Because I am one of those “variety-firsters”. A Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley is more similar to a Pinot from the Santa Lucia Highlands than it is to a Merlot from the Russian River Valley. I believe that because that is what my senses tell me. And happily, lots of people agree.

So, when my follow blogger, Tom Wark, over on his blog, Fermentation, reviewed a book by a Professor Matthews of UC Davis entitled “Terroir and Other Myths of Winemaking”, he set off a firestorm of circular argument. It was great fun reading learned folk trying to prove each other wrong, and occasionally being called names in the bargain. But it was, of course, more fun than science, because one cannot prove the existence or non-existence of terroir. One can only believe.

Yes, Russian River Valley Pinots are relatively closer to most other Pinots than they are to most Merlots, but Russian River Valley Pinot from Freestone in the far western edge of Sonoma County is different enough from Westside Road Pinot with its richer, rounder character that many knowledgeable folks can often tell the difference between the two.

They are Pinots first, and then they are Freestone or Westside road. Thus, I am a believer. Terroir is not a myth. It may also be not as significant as the “true believers” claim, but it is silly, I think, to deny the influence of place, and all that place means in soil types, climate, sun hours, etc. A difference is a difference—and, after all, is that not what makes the wine world go around for so many of us.


 

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Comments

"Wine’s Microbial Terroir"
by Bob Henry
Posted on:4/17/2016 3:33:33 AM

Press release from UC Davis

(November 25, 2013):

“Sequencing Study Lifts Veil on Wine’s Microbial Terroir”

Link: http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/printable_news.lasso?id=10762&table=news

It’s widely accepted that terroir — the unique blend of a vineyard’s soils, water and climate — sculpts the flavor and quality of wine. Now a new study led by UC Davis researchers offers evidence that grapes and the wines they produce are also the product of an unseen but fairly predictable microbial terroir, itself shaped by the climate and geography of the region, vineyard and even individual vine.

Results from DNA sequencing revealed that there are patterns in the fungal and bacterial communities that inhabit the surface of wine grapes, and these patterns are influenced by vineyard environmental conditions. The findings appear online this week in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The study results represent a real paradigm shift in our understanding of grape and wine production, as well as other food and agricultural systems in which microbial communities impact the qualities of the fresh or processed products,” said Professor David Mills, a microbiologist in the Department of Viticulture and Enology and Department of Food Science and Technology.

He noted that further studies are needed to determine whether these variations in the microbial communities that inhabit the surface of the grapes eventually produce detectable differences in the flavor, aroma and other chemically linked sensory properties of wines.

The study co-authors suggest that by gaining a better understanding of microbial terroir, growers and vintners may be able to better plan how to manage their vineyards and customize wine production to achieve optimal wine quality.

To examine the microbial terroir, the researchers collected 273 samples of grape “must” — the pulpy mixture of juice, skins and seeds from freshly crushed, de-stemmed wine grapes.

The must samples were collected right after crushing and mixing from wineries throughout California’s wine-grape growing regions during two separate vintages. Each sample, containing grapes from a specific vineyard block, was immediately frozen for analysis.

The researchers used a DNA sequencing technique called short-amplicon sequencing to characterize the fungal and bacterial communities growing on the surface of the grapes and subsequently appearing in the grape must samples.

They found that the structure of the microbial communities varied widely across different grape growing regions. The data also indicated that there were significant regional patterns of both fungal and bacterial communities represented in Chardonnay must samples. However, the Cabernet Sauvignon samples exhibited strong regional patterns for fungal communities but only weak patterns for bacterial communities.

Further tests showed that the bacterial and fungal patterns followed a geographical axis running north-south and roughly parallel to the California coastline, suggesting that microbial patterns are influenced by environmental factors.

Taken together, these and other results from the study reveal patterns of regional distributions of the microbial communities across large geographical scales, the study co-authors reported.

They noted that it appears that growing regions can be distinguished based on the abundance of several key groups of fungi and bacteria, and that these regional features have obvious consequences for both grapevine management and wine quality.

Collaborating with Mills were graduate student Nicholas Bokulich of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology; John Thorngate of Constellation Brands Inc.; and Paul Richardson, CEO of MicroTrek Inc., a company founded to provide microbial mapping services to help vintners understand this phenomenon.

Constellation Brands Inc. provided in-kind support for the study through sample and metadata collection.

Funding for the study was provided, in part, by the American Wine Society Educational Foundation Endowment Fund, the American Society of Brewing Chemists Foundation and the Wine Spectator.

"I can’t buy that scientifically yet I believe ..."
by Bob Henry
Posted on:10/27/2016 10:56:04 PM

"What Wine Snobs Get Wrong"

[NYU's Karl Storchmann, founder and managing editor of the Journal of Wine Economics]

Link: https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2016/october/karl-storchmann-on-wine-economics.html

Excerpt:

Whether expensive wines actually taste better is a different question.

A Journal of Wine Economics study of 6,000 blind tastings found that, when they didn’t know what they were drinking, most non-expert wine drinkers actually preferred inexpensive wine 

"I can’t buy that scientifically yet I believe ..."
by Bob Henry
Posted on:10/27/2016 11:00:19 PM

Let's try again with less embedded links . . .

"What Wine Snobs Get Wrong"

[NYU's Karl Storchmann, founder and managing editor of the Journal of Wine Economics]

Link: https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2016/october/karl-storchmann-on-wine-economics.html

Excerpt:

Whether expensive wines actually taste better is a different question.

A Journal of Wine Economics study of 6,000 blind tastings found that, when they didn’t know what they were drinking, most non-expert wine drinkers actually preferred inexpensive wine over the pricier kind. Based on that, we all should just go for the palate- and budget-friendly Two-Buck Chuck and be happy, right? Not so fast, Storchmann cautions, citing a 2008 study (published in PNAS) that wired subjects up to fMRI scanners while they were tasting wines that they were told cost different amounts. In the experiment, subjects said they preferred what was presented as a $90 wine over that presented as a $10 wine, even when what the researchers poured them was actually from the exact same bottle. Moreover, the drinkers’ brain scans showed that they weren’t bluffing about what they felt: The medial orbitofrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with pleasure, showed higher activity when the subjects drank the wines they had been led to believe were expensive.

In other words,

"I can’t buy that scientifically yet I believe ..."
by Bob Henry
Posted on:10/27/2016 11:02:47 PM

Second and final paragraph:

In other words,

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