An interesting article popped up in early December regarding climate change and how it is potentially going to be the end of the terroir concept. You can read the full article here but here are my thoughts about how climate change and terroir are going to interact.
First of all, you could argue that terroir is already dead; or at least shaking its head disapprovingly at times. Any producer can give a wine a full makeover to make it taste like something it is not. But then we can fall down a rabbit hole with questions like, “does Cabernet really taste like Cabernet or does it really taste like Carignan?” Or as the movie The Matrix covers in their discussion of Tasty Wheat:
Mouse: Do you know what it really reminds me of? Tasty Wheat. Did you ever eat Tasty Wheat?
Switch: No- but technically, neither did you.
Mouse: That’s exactly my point! Exactly! Because you have to wonder now: how do the machines really know what Tasty Wheat tasted like, huh? Maybe they got it wrong. Maybe what I think Tasty Wheat tasted like actually tasted like uh…. oatmeal or uh…. or tuna fish. That makes you wonder about a lot of things. You take chicken for example. Maybe they couldn’t figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything!
To counter my own first argument I would say that terroir is something that can never die. However it can evolve. This is something that has happened in Napa. When grapes were first planted here Cabernet was not king. Hard to believe right? In fact it took a decent amount of time to begin its reign. Today you cannot mention Napa’s terroir without also talking about Cabernet Sauvignon.
The articles biggest asset is that it recognizes the changes that are happening around the world with sugar levels, harvest dates and varieties that are being planted or produced in regions that might not have been possible 10+ years ago. Look at English sparkling wine as an example. Who’da thunk they would opt to (or be able to) produce their own sparkling wine.
We as farmers also have plenty of technology and resources at our fingertips to adjust to what mother nature is throwing our way. This could be anything from irrigation to leaf thinning to harvest techniques and timing. From there we can also adjust our fermentation, aging and blending practices to best suit the style that we are trying to stick to. If a particular region is unable to produce a “quality” wine of a certain style or variety due to the terroir then you would likely see those producers adapt to what those conditions are. That doesn’t mean that wine production or the sense of terroir halts all together.
Terroir isn’t going anywhere. It is simply up to us to decide how we harness it as it continues to evolve.