Terroir

Grapes October 13, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

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Mark Chien, Penn State University

Terroir is a French word that, despite its lack of a clear definition, finds itself at the center of any effort to define wine quality. As defined by French geologist Yves Herody, terroir refers to those elements that interact to produce the liquid that ends up in your glass. These elements roughly include:

  • soil,
  • climate,
  • plant materials,
  • viticulture, and
  • the wine maker’s imprint.

Each has its own particular influence on wine quality, and the relative significance of any component may vary according to conditions from one vintage to the next. Finding the right balance of each one of these important terroir components is the ultimate achievement in wine growing.

Viticulture plays the role of defining the terroir of a site. The virtues of a site may be so outstanding as to offset lapses in vineyard care but a site can never optimize its quality potential if the very best viticulture is not applied to it. A well managed vineyard will give back significant rewards. This means learning about the very peculiar and special nature of each vineyard site and even variations between places within the vineyard.

Recommended Resources

Vineyard Site Selection

Soil Quality in Vineyards

Vineyard Soils: Nutrients

Vineyard Soils: Texture and Structure

Vineyard Soils: Biology

Where to Plant a Vineyard: Climate

Reviewed by Eric Stafne, Mississippi State University
and Bruce Bordelon, Purdue University

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.