Washington Wine Uncorked: Terroir Hunting on Red Mountain

“It is one of the commonest of mistakes to consider that the limit of our power of perception is also the limit of all there is to perceive.” – C. W. Leadbetter

People [okay mostly cork-dorks] often talk about "terroir" if you're new to the concept, it can be one that's difficult to wrap your head around. You may also have heard it tossed around at the local wine-bar or possibly bandied around the proverbial wine-cooler saying things like "wow, this wine is really terroir-driven" or you may see in tasting notes, wow beautiful minerality as a descriptor of the wine they are drinking. But what does that mean? Is it just wine-nerd talk or does it really say something about the wine in your glass?

While some of us say yes and undoubtedly some will say no to this possibility. It may further be suggested by some skeptics that if one believes minerality [a word not found in the dictionary] can be tasted in the wine, then you're either one of two things; a snob attempting lord knowledge over folks or you just don't have a clue about what they're talking about. To see how that discussion unfolds and make up your own mind, click the link here to read Jancis Robinsons take on whether minerality is a real or contrived characteristic to be found in wine.

Perhaps, before you finish reading this post, you may want to pop over to this other link for a fast and easy one paragraph definition of the what terroir means, it provides an insightful baseline of information to see where I'm attempting to go with this post, I hope you will find it helpful for a fuller understanding of the subject.

"The French have named this interaction between cultural practices, the local environment, and the vines, the "terroir.” While there will always be some disagreement over which aspects of the terroir are most influential, it is clear that the prudent grape grower must understand their interactions and controls on grape growth and quality (for a good review of the concept of terroir see Vaudour, 2002)." ~ Gregory V. Jones

Frankly speaking, if you're mainly drinking commodity wines [jug, bottom shelf 750ml's or box wines] which indicate on the label that the fruit used to produce the wine in the bottle comes only from geographic area known as California for example, then you're not going to be able to appreciate or perceive any real influence of terroir in my opinion. The reason being is that these wines are so highly homogenized to the point of being generically uniform, any of those unique identifying qualities have left the train station long ago.

On the other hand, if you're wine drinker who likes to consume and collect small production wines produced from places like the Red Mountain AVA, for example, you are going to start seeing a trend in the flavor profile of these wines. A uniquely Red Mountain profile that you that you won't sense when drinking wines produced from the Oakville AVA in Napa, for example. Both have some very unique soils, and both provide very different styles of wines, of course, terroir is not the only influence to affect the overall flavor profile you experience.

If you want to put this theory to the test; grab a bottle of an estate wine from both regions, pick a producer like Terra Blanca and one from Bobby Mondavi's place in the Napa Valley, decant, serve the wines blind and then compare and contrast. I'm pretty sure you will see the differences that soil-types can play with what happens with these grapes final product, the finished wine in your glass.

So you may recall I spent a week on Red Mountain with fantastic folks at Terra Blanca a few years ago. They generously hosted me for the entire visit, which was supposed to result in some crush activities, but harvest was sadly delayed. The video I produced while I was there can be watched below, I think it will really help most folks to understand the impact of soil type on wine and why it's important to delineate between one AVA and another. Watch the video below to see how that difference is made in the overall flavor profiles of the [distinctiveness] wines you drink.

Big thanks to Keith Pilgrim, Terra Blanca's owner and winemaker who starred in this video and the entire wonderfully professional staff at Terra Blanca, who put up with me all week and their very kind hospitality. I had a great time and learned so much from my visit, perhaps for my next visit, I could stay a little longer, work as a harvest intern for the season, hmm. Until next time folks sip long and prosper cheers!


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