The textbook idea of what is terroir is this: with wine, it means that there is a sense of place that you can taste in the wine. That sense of place is derived from the soil, the climate, the aspect upon which the vineyard sits, the slope of the vineyard, and the yeast culture of the place.
It’s a pretty all-encompassing definition, and it applies not just to wine: it applies to tequila, too. It can apply to anything that is grown in a particular area that derives unique characteristics from the place it is grown.
But what do those terms mean? Here we take a look at how some of these factors apply to wine.
Aspect: this is the direction the slope of the vineyard faces. Does it catch the sun all day? Does it look towards the equator? If it does, the grapes will get a lot more heat than they would with an aspect that looks away from the equator, and this effect is increased the closer to the equator that the vineyard is.
Climate: this has to do with the temperatures experienced in the vineyard, as well as the level of sunlight, rainfall, and diurnal temperature range of the site.
The interplay between these factors can be quite unique. Large bodies of water like lakes and bays can have a moderating effect on the diurnal temperatures a site experiences. For instance, sites with a continental climate often have warm days and very cold nights. But if there is a large lake near the vineyard, these types of water bodies can heat up during the day and moderate the cooling down overnight, keeping the site warmer than it would be without it.
Bodies of water can affect the sunlight hours a vineyard attracts, too, as these often attract clouds.
The interplay between all these factors is quite complex and can be very specific to the site.
Soil: the composition of the soil in which vines are growing affects how they grow. Clay soils tend to be poorer at draining water, so run the risk of waterlogging the vine’s roots. Soils which are sandy and stoney offer better drainage, but if they are too sandy they run the risk of not being able to retain much water at all when the vine needs it.