grapes at harvestHere in the US we are pretty much considered the new kids on the block in the evolution of wine and wine industry. We have been doing the wine thing for a couple hundred years with it getting off to quite a rough start and then really picking up around the mid to late 70’s with the judgment of Paris.

The old world proclaims true terroir and sometimes has a hard time accepting the same proclamations on our side of the ocean. I could talk about other new world regions but because of an article I have just come across I will focus on the US. Washington State specifically.

Coming up through Italian wines I have leaned towards the old world for quite sometime always dipping my toe in the ocean of new world wines but never really giving them the chance they deserved. Then a little over a year ago David and I opened the shop. We went from an Italian all the time to…everything else.

Being a wine geek I have been curious about microclimates from around the world. I have been interested in anything that was unique yet…good. When we started researching for our initial inventory at the shop we were thrushed into the new world and all the wonderful subtleties it had to offer. I went from dipping my toe to complete and utter submersion. And man am I glad that I did.

As we moved through the world of wine we heard the world terroir bandied about like a bumblebee in a windstorm. People were using the word from every corner of the winemaking world. The wacky thing is when I would mention to a person tasting us on some old world wine about the terroir of Oregon they would start to say something, stop, collect themselves and nod. What came next was a polite way of telling me there was no such thing as terroir in the new world and people that say such things as Napa terroir has no place doing so.

This subject could go very deep and I would love to discuss it further but I feel I would loose you guys with my babble. Not that the info is over anyone’s head it’s just that it is such a dense subject I would hear a collective snore after the fifth paragraph.

I guess what I am trying to say is, yes, the US is still realizing its terroir. Our appellation system is not as strict as that of say, France or Italy. These elders have had much more time to understand, study, practice, fail and overcome then we have. The grapes that we cultivate were born on their land. We have taken the clones of these ancient varietals and tested them in our soils and in our valleys and hills.

And it is okay that we are still in the process of understanding our land. While we are learning some great wines are coming out of places like Washington State and Oregon, And places in California like the Central coast.

And in an effort to further our knowledge of our individual terroir:

“Washington state growers Wednesday spoke in favor of stricter rules governing the content of wines billed as Washington products.”

This is a move by the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers to give their state’s wine more identity.

“The bill seeks to require that Washington wines be made 95% from Washington-grown grapes. Wines bearing labels referencing a specific viticultural area would have to be made 95% from grapes grown within the designated American Viticultural Area.”

This is a great move. If this rule is put in place it will further the sense of place in well-respected wine region. As a wine grower in Washington State this must be very exciting. All of your hard work to make that one bottle of wine someone will be enjoying in an apartment across the country over dinner is guaranteed as 95% fruit from your AVA. As years pass this idea will solidify even more and the reputation of the area will gain momentum on the quality of the sense of place.

“Washington currently requires that its wines be made 75% from Washington grapes, a much lower content requirement than that prescribed in neighboring jurisdictions.”

Oregon is all about the 95% rule, “Oregon wines must contain no less than 95% Oregon-grown grape juice,” and so is neighboring regions in Canada so why not?

California is a larger state and there are different rules governing their percentages. They only get into the 95% rule in specific areas. They embrace the 75% rule which is quite misleading to the masses when they see a wine that says Cabernet Sauvignon and in fact there is some merlot in there to flesh it out and maybe some syrah to spice it up. Why not just tell us and let us enjoy the craft of blending. Why not be proud about how that balance was achieved. Larger production or not.

So this is something for us to think about.

When you hear the word “terroir” attached to American wine and somebody knocks the idea down just know deep down that even though there may be some truth to the statement we as a wine growing country and region of the world are realizing our sense of place more and more as we learn and unlearn certain practices that will help and hinder us. We are still understanding, studying, practicing, failing and overcoming.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by DCH on February 26, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Agreed! Down with the snobs…


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