“Terroir” is a term which in wine generally signifies the precise characteristics that a specific geographical location imparts to the wine. For me, terroir imparts meaning beyond the physical, incorporating time and a sense of place, of identity which relates to belonging.
My grandfather grew apple trees. There was a red apple tree that got ripe in June, and two yellow apple trees that ripened early as well. These apples were used in pies, in canning, and for eating in the summer.
On the other side of the house was a small plot that had two more apple trees that ripened in the fall; these two trees had these whitish golden green apples with grey-brown spots on them. They were hard, hard as winesaps, tart, and made great cider. To this day, they were the best apples I’ve ever had.
My grandfather also had plums, damson plums, and peaches. Relatives and neighbors had pear trees, I remember my great Aunt Leslie had pears that make my mouth water to think of them.
Today I and most folks I know buy our fruit from grocery stores. The fruit can come from all over the world. Frequently I don’t even know where it comes from unless it says “California oranges” “Chilean Grapes”, etcetera.
There is something about the “I’ve been there and touched that” knowledge of a place that carries a distinctiveness that matters to me.
Some wines that I drink (the wines I enjoy the most) talk to me of where they come from. They whisper to me of sunny days, of hot stretches of beating sun, of overly wet springtimes. They murmur of the minerals in the soil: chalk, limestone, granite, the clay of the soil in which the vines grow, the hillsides that look year after year onto the habitations of the humans who live near them.
I drink wine from a particular year, and I associate myself with the memories of those years. Ray Bradbury wrote about dandelion wine, and how it trapped each summer in the bottles and when winter came you could go to the cellar and open one and the summer would flower into the room when you sipped it.
Why am I talking about all this to folks who probably know it as well as I do?
Because fairly frequently, the wines I drink inspire me to wax poetic about them.
I just recently opened a Clos de Sainte Catherine, Domaine des Baumard chenin blanc, 2002. I hadn't had a really fine chenin blanc in "awhile", and I am rather happy with this one.
This wine is what inspired me to write this today, because when I drank it, it brought my grandfather and his apple trees into my memory in a visceral way.
Things like this are what get me to often pursue wine over other beverages.