Soil and the Environment
Soil and the Environment
English has no exact translation for the French word terroir. But terroir is one of the few words to evoke passion in any discussion about soils. One reason may be that wine is one product of the land where the consumer can ascribe a direct link between subtle variations in the character of the product and the soil on which it was grown. Wine writers and commentators now use the term terroir routinely, as they might such words as rendezvous, liaison, and café, which are completely at home in the English language. French vignerons and scientists have been more passionate than most in promoting the concept of terroir (although some such as Pinchon (1996) believe that the word terroir has been abused for marketing, sentimental, and political purposes). Their views range from the metaphysical—that “alone, in the plant kingdom, does the vine make known to us the true taste of the earth” (quoted by Hancock 1999, p. 43)—to the factual: “terroir viticole is a complex notion which integrates several factors . . . of the natural environment (soil, climate, topography), biological (variety, rootstock), and human (of wine, wine-making, and history)” (translated from van Leeuwen 1996, p. 1). Others recognize terroir as a dynamic concept of site characterization that comprises permanent factors (e.g., geology, soil, environment) and temporary factors (variety, cultural methods, winemaking techniques). Iacano et al. (2000) point out that if the temporary factors vary too much, the expression of the permanent factors in the wine (the essence of terroir) can be masked. The difference between wines from particular vineyards cannot be detected above the “background noise” (Martin 2000). A basic aim of good vineyard management is not to disguise, but to amplify, the natural terroir of a site. Terroir therefore denotes more than simply the relationship between soil and wine. Most scientists admit they cannot express quantitatively the relationship between a particular terroir and the characteristics of wine produced from that terroir. Nevertheless, the concept of terroir underpins the geographical demarcation of French viticultural areas: the Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée (AOC) system, which is based on many years’ experience of the character and quality of individual wines from specific areas.
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