TERROIR PART-5: The Survey

Quote Rakhshan Zhouleh: “Terroir is like a piece of music by a composer who reaches out and inspires music lovers. This effect is more than a name: a unique sensory feeling associated with authenticity and recognisability.”

GERMANY (Würzburg) – In preparation for a tasting of German white wines with regard to the question “What is a terroir wine?”, an exclusive survey was conducted among well-known vintners, successful wine merchants and renowned sommeliers. The questions asked were (with selected answers afterwards):

The participants of the surveys in alphabetical order:

  • Claus Burmeister, Operations Manager “Burg Ravensburg” (Sulzfeld)
  • Nicolas Frauer, cellar master “Juliusspital” (Würzburg)
  • René Gabriel, book author and wine critic, former director of the “Académie du Vin” (Eschenbach / Switzerland)
  • Joachim Heger, “Winery Dr. Heger” (Ihringen)
  • Peer F. Holm, President Sommelier-Union, Owner “Wein & Wissen” (Cologne)
  • Stefan Lang, winemaker “Rotweine Lang” (Neckenmarkt / Austria)
  • Ernst F. Loosen, “Winery Dr. Loosen” (Bernkastel)
  • Rudolf May, “May Winery” (Retzstadt)
  • Bärbel Ring, Sommelière “Söl’Ring Hof” (Rantum / Sylt)
  • Sebastian Schütz, Managing Director Wine Shop “rotweissrosé” (Würzburg)
  • Maximilian Wilm, “Kinfelts Kitchen & Wine” (Hamburg)
  • Andrea Wirsching, Managing Director “Hans Wirsching” (Iphofen)
  • Rakhshan Zhouleh, multiple Sommelier of the Year Germany (Salzburg)

What do you understand by the term “terroir”?

Claus Burmeister: “For me, the theme of ‘terroir’ is directly related to the place where the vines grow. Wine should carry the magic of a place to the palate.”

Nicolas Frauer: “Terroir, as celebrated by the inventors of the word, the French, describes in my eyes the specific taste of an artisan agricultural product that shows the characteristics of a specific, regional and strongly delimited origin and its peculiarities in terms of soil and microclimate, a very special production method and, of course, the philosophy of the producer.”

Bärbel Ring: “Terroir is the interplay of soil, climate and the winemaker’s signature.”

Sebastian Schütz: “Terroir is the tangible origin of the wine.”

Maximilian Wilm: “For me, terroir is the big picture that influences the taste of a wine: soil, location, the winemaker’s signature, grape variety, ageing, climate.”

Andrea Wirsching: “In my opinion, the winemaker’s hand is not part of terroir. I understand the term to mean above all the site factors of a vineyard that shape the later wines.”

In your opinion, which German term would best describe “terroir”?

René Gabriel: “Identity and origin.”

Joachim Heger: “Terroir is a neologism that also includes the emotional component of the entire winemaking and winemaking process. For the Kaiserstuhl location, an analogy to the complex term would be something like ‘the becoming of the wine from the stone to the glass’.”

Stefan Lang: “Similarities with microclimate.”

Ernst F. Loosen: “In my opinion, the term ‘terroir’ is best described in German as ‘Lage’.”

If you have named several sub-terms as belonging to “terroir”: Do you see a certain weighting in your statements?

Nicolas Frauer: “Everything is significant, the weighting differs depending on the producer. In principle, the soil certainly plays the biggest role, perhaps 40 per cent soil, 30 per cent microclimate, 30 per cent producer. But with certain producers, the signature is also so unmistakable that it tends to account for more than 50 per cent of the product’s characteristics.”

Joachim Heger: “The weighting of the detailed topics reflected in the term ‘terroir’ I would give one third each to location, soil and microclimate, to the design and care of the vineyard and the vines in interplay with the natural conditions, and to the preservation of grape quality and development of a special end product ‘wine’ through subtle control measures against the background of the wealth of experience acquired over the years.”

Peer F. Holm: “1. soil, 2. climate and 3. winemaker.”

Stefan Lang: “33 percent soil, 33 percent climate, 33 percent cultivation (i.e. an equal interplay of these factors).”

Rudolf May: “Soil 40 per cent, man 40 per cent, climate 20 per cent.”

Rakhshan Zhouleh: “It is about the overall impact of the wine landscape DNA on each other and their developments. Soil is not more important than climate etc., but the combinations and dosages of influences in relation to the respective area are decisive for true identity (= terroir).”

Do you think it is unfavourable that there is no uniform, universally accepted definition of “terroir”, or do you see an advantage in the diversity of opinions?

Nicolas Frauer: “It also contributes to the meaning of the term ‘terroir’ that there are so many different opinions and statements about it. I see that as positive.”

Joachim Heger: “The eventual search for a perhaps possible uniform definition for the term ‘terroir’ arises from the search for objectification, objectification, reproducibility, which is typical for Germans. The term ‘terroir’, on the other hand, rather reflects the Romanesque way of shaping, which also leaves room for emotion in the work and, especially in viticulture, naturally also takes into account the experience that for every winegrower and winemaker every year again represents a new challenge with some, sometimes many unknowns.”

Peer F. Holm: “If you define everything exactly, you also lose some of the diversity and individuality that makes the wine world so beautifully colourful. Wine lovers appreciate it very much to exchange ideas about their wine preferences as intensively as possible. This also includes the intense exchange of ideas about what exactly is meant by ‘terroir’ or ‘minerality’, etc. Admittedly: We Germans love to specify things and define them neatly down to the last detail. But wine is different from a car or a machine; it is a natural product whose quality depends on many factors that we humans cannot influence. And that’s what makes the magic of wine for me.”

Stefan Lang: “A uniform definition of ‘terroir’ would make sense and should include the sum of all the factors mentioned (terroir is often seen as ‘soil’ alone).

Ernst F. Loosen: “Terroir consists of a variety of different factors: microclimate, drainage, humus content, microorganisms, so it is difficult to find a generally valid definition of ‘terroir’.

Bärbel Ring: “The term ‘terroir’ includes various sub-concepts, which is an advantage.”

Maximilian Wilm: “Terroir lives from its diversity. A uniform definition is, I think, not possible. For every sommelier or wine drinker, there are different factors that contribute to terroir.”

Rakhshan Zhouleh: “Terroir is like a piece of music by a composer that reaches and inspires music lovers. This effect is more than a name: a unique sensory feeling associated with authenticity and recognisability.”

Are there aspects or sub-concepts that are not generally counted as “terroir”, but which you yourself consider to belong to it?

Nicolas Frauer: “All aspects that contribute to the distinctiveness of the product also have a certain terroir-enhancing effect. However, I would not consider them necessary for this. As long as wines without a real origin character end up in the same bottle as high-end products with a special origin fidelity, the importance of the Bocksbeutel as a terroir-enhancing instrument suffers, for example.”

Ernst F. Loosen: “In my opinion, winemaking, the container in which the wine is aged (stainless steel, wood, concrete) and the technique used to make the wine are not part of ‘terroir’. However, in order to recognise the terroir from the different sites, it is important that – as in our case – all Grosses Gewächse are vinified with the same conditions. For example, all of our GGs are produced only from 100% healthy grapes, harvested between 12 and 12.5 percent alcohol by volume, undergo the same pressing method, are all fermented with natural yeasts in wooden barrels, remain on the full lees for 12 months and we aim for an analysis for all GGs of 7 grams of residual sugar and 7 grams of acidity. By keeping all parameters as equal as possible here, the difference between these wines can really only be the difference in site or ‘terroir’.”

Maximilian Wilm: “Tradition should always be included in terroir. The Bocksbeutel is a good example. Just like the maturation under flor yeast in the Jura. For me, tradition and history also belong to terroir.”

Rakhshan Zhouleh: “Terroir has always existed and actually had to do with originality and modesty. But terroir now also belongs to luxury goods: a content adorned with distinctive clothing or marketing faces for recognition. Identification with all the details of origin is terroir. Salzburg without Mozart is not Salzburg. Venice without water is no Venice. Egypt without pyramids is no Egypt. Tyrol without mountains is no Tyrol.”

Any further, additional comments?

Nicolas Frauer: “Terroir is our great opportunity to give wines their own identity, to see and understand them as ambassadors of their origin and thus to clearly distinguish ourselves from mass products from industrial production and trivial wines without their own philosophy, character and individuality. This means that terroir and its implementation are of enormous importance to us. The best origins are given more weight on the market and for the customers. We are very pleased about that.”

Rudolf May: “I’m preaching to the choir on this subject. It is very close to my heart. It is the greatest task for a winegrower to reflect his ‘terroir’ in the wine. Every intervention (whether viticulture through the use of systemic pesticides or in the cellar through e.g. enzymes, fining agents, pure-breeding yeasts) should be reconsidered, because it diminishes the natural DNA. It hurts my soul that today, at the further education schools, winemakers are still taught how to blur their terroir as much as possible and create pleasing or mainstream wines.”

Maximilian Wilm: “For me, terroir is a very overrated term. Please don’t misunderstand. Origin is very important. But the personal signature of a winemaker is just as important. Every winemaker has a different idea of how his wine should taste. And that’s a good thing. Otherwise, for example, every Franconian Silvaner would taste the same. A chef is also not told how he cooks, but it is considered his personal style and it should be the same with the vintners.”

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