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What makes a good terroir?

The notion of terroir cannot be objectively defined. Whilst it is impossible to characterise the ideal terroir for making good wine, its impact on the finished product is undeniable. There are also terroirs where good wines cannot be made.

The concept of terroir is multidisciplinary: it is the sum of biological (vines), environmental (geology, climate, soil and geography) and human factors, that involve soil science, viticulture, wine making and history. The soils where vines grow play a decisive role: they provide the water resources and minerals that vines need. Climate, as defined by temperature, rainfall and sunshine, is also of paramount importance. Appellations are based on these criteria, although sometimes their boundaries can be slightly imprecise.

The concept of terroir is inseparable from that of vine variety, however. Top class wines can be produced in any wine region: the prerequisite is the interaction between grape variety and terroir. A superlative terroir and grape variety deemed noble can produce low quality wines if they are not matched properly.

But terroir goes beyond this. Its quality alone does not ensure a high quality wine. Human input factors into the equation: “The finest terroir ranks on a par with the worst, if it is not cultivated correctly” (Vauban, minister under Louis XIV). Each grape variety reacts differently to soils, climate and people. Terroir is therefore not just about soil, it is the fruit of Man’s labours.