The SOMM Journal

April / May 2015

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20 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } APRIL/MAY 2015 { one woman's view } Karen MacNeil is the author of the forthcoming The NEW Wine Bible, fall 2015. "It's the enological equivalent of 'Is God dead?' Maybe it's because we're experiencing the pain of its absence. But without terroir, winemaking is a hollow game, a hall of mirrors." That was Randall Grahm, proprietor and winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyards in Santa Cruz, California. The conversation we were having about terroir happened ten years ago. It was one of those messy, circular, metaphysical conversations—kind of like terroir itself. Grahm's words have stuck with me, and far from being answered, the "question of terroir" has more gravitas than ever. We all, of course, know what terroir is, but what I think is most fascinating is what I'll call the "psychological role" terroir plays. As the critical core of viticulture, the concept of terroir is immensely comforting. Terroir assumes a certain soulfulness of place. It also implies that no further explanation is necessary. Ask an old Frenchman why a wine tastes as it does and he answers with one word—terroir. As such, terroir cannot be reduced to a set of distinct, knowable elements. It cannot be taken apart and put back together again. And nonetheless, for most of us, it is real and believable. Whether you can taste it in a wine is another question. Peak inside many modern wineries and what do you see? Every high-tech, computer- driven, shiny piece of equipment known to exist. Do these help to reveal terroir more perfectly? Or are modern winemakers more out of touch with terroir—more meta- physically "rootless" than ever before? Over the last ten years, I've noticed a curious shift in the definition of terroir. More than ever, winemakers themselves are now included in the concept. This, it seems to me, may be intellectual fallacy. There is, for example, no word for winemaker in French (or in Spanish, Italian, or German). The word the French use is vigneron, vine grower. Implicit in that humble title is the deeply ingrained European belief that wine is made by the forces of Nature—not by a person. If the oldest truth of the Old World is that fine wine is primarily and inevitably the reflection of a place, can it also be the sum of "work orders" issued by a modern winemaker? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Write me at The Oldest Truth of the Old World AMONG WINE LOVERS AND WINEMAKERS, THE QUESTION OF TERROIR CAN TAKE ON ALMOST THEOLOGICAL OVERTONES by Karen MacNeil

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