Have you ever stopped to think why Sancerre is only planted with Sauvignon Blanc, or Chablis with Chardonnay, and Pommard and Volnay with only Pinot Noir? And outside France we have Nebbiolo in Piedmont, and Albariño in Rias Baixas. There are many other examples even from New World wines such as Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc across New Zealand, and Pinot Noir again in Oregon’s Williamette Valley. How often do we ask for a Californian Cabernet Sauvignon or a South African Chenin Blanc in a wine bar, a very focused and specific request?
The answer lies in the terroir, the total environment in which the grape is being asked to grow. The grape decides whether to grow and thrive or not, whether to ripen early or late, or sometimes not at all. It has got its roots firmly planted in the soil, drawing on minerals and water from below to feed its hungry shoots and leaves. It’s leaves depend on the sun, as do it’s fruit. Is it getting enough of what it needs, not too much, not too little. Does it get cold at night or during the daytime from winds? Tricky business!
From one perspective it is the grape itself that decides everything on its journey from soil to vine to barrel to bottle. If it isn’t happy at every stage no matter how skilful the winemaker, it just won’t play ball! Even after picking and being taken into the winery each grape needs treating reverently, the right temperature, left on the skins or not, left on the lees or not, fermentation, how long in barrel or steel tank before bottling. The grape will decide whether to respond positively. More and more winemakers around the world are recognising and understanding this relationship between grape/vine and terroir, the total environment even including the winery. It isn’t just a French fetish! Leave well alone and let it do it’s own thing has become the maxim. So when you order or pour your next glass, choose wisely, choose a wine from where you know the winemaker has cared for his vine, and lastly, thank the grape for making the journey!