How to Define Terroir

10 wine experts from all over the world distill the essence of terroir in just a sentence

How do winemakers and experts define terroir?

It’s hard to talk about wine these days without someone mentioning the word "terroir." This French term does not have a simple definition, but refers to the impact that all the natural surroundings of a vineyard have on the wine that ends up in the bottle. Climate, slope, and soil all factor into giving wine a sense of place or terroir. Many winemakers strive to preserve the distinct terroir that contributes to their wines by taking a hands-off approach to preserve what the land gives them.

We challenged 10 wine professionals — from writers to sommeliers to winemakers — to come up with a compact and concise definition of terroir. Here’s what they had to say:

"One can recognize terroir in the way one recognizes a person: is it their face, their voice, their way of speaking, their way of thinking, the way they smell?" —Christopher Howell, general manager and winemaker, Cain Vineyard and Winery, Napa, Calif.

"Untranslatable French term that determinates a complexity of elements (geology, climate, topography, and soil) that, under human being work, create adapted plants allowing to produce unique fermented food and drink products." — Stefano Inama, owner and winemaker at Azienda Agricola Inama.

"Terroir is the idea of a holistic place and its translation into the medium of wine." — James Tidwell, Master Sommelier and beverage manager, Four Seasons Resort and Club, Dallas.

"In Santorini, 400-year-old non-grafted rootstock in volcanic soil provides the true definition of minerality in a wine!" — Dr. Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, co-owner and chief oenologist at Gaia Wines, Santorini, Greece

"Dirt counts when it has the capacity to push through winemaking and varietal correctness in a manner that proves interesting to the hairless ape." — Todd Hamina, winemaker at Biggio Hamina Cellars, McMinnville, Ore.

"Terroir is a cause and effect relationship between soil components and wine flavors for which no other explanation seems possible." — Terry Theise, wine importer

"#Terroir is a meme." — Katherine Cole, author of Voodoo Vintners

"The combination of factors and influences pertaining to geography and climate that contribute to the uniqueness of profile of wine from any given location" —Marc Kent, winemaker at Boekenhoutskloof, South Africa

"Terroir is the highlighting of components of a non-replicable place and how they belie a winemaker’s capacity to manipulate a wine from harvest to bottle." — Ross Andrew Mickel, winemaker at Ross Andrew Winery, Medina, Washington State.

And, finally, a haiku:

"That which makes a place
unique, that produces wines

--Christopher Watkins, manager of retail sales and hospitality and author and host of 4488: A Ridge Blog at Ridge Vineyards


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