Word of the Week: Terroir

Terroir may well be the wine world’s biggest buzzword, and yet one of its most elusive concepts. Derived from the French word “terre,” meaning “land,” terroir in essence refers to all of the environmental factors at play in a vineyard – soil, climate, sun exposure, slope, etc. All of these elements affect the collective character of a winegrowing area, and provide to a wine a “sense of place,” with qualities that seem to persist regardless of vintage or winemaking decisions. Some however, particularly in the Old World, also include a human aspect into the idea of terroir. For them, human traditions, often fine-tuned over centuries and codified into appellation laws, can further provide transparency into where a wine is grown. Perhaps the concept of terroir is most heavily associated with Burgundy , where winegrowers often discuss the nuanced variances in terroir that can wholly change the expression of one vineyard, or even a vineyard plot, versus its neighbor. In fact, over the course of millennia Burgundians have subdivided the region into 1,247 terroirs, called “climats,” which have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.