|Chevaliers - Montrachet Grand Cru, Cote de Beaune // May, 2011|
Although "terroir" doesn't have a formal commonly accepted definition even in wine world most respectable sources agree on fairly similar descriptions. The one I like the most is from Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay's book The Sommelier's Atlas of Taste actually written by Hugh Johnson as an introduction to James E. Wilson's book Terroir published in 1998: "Terroir is much more than what goes on beneath the surface. Properly understood, it means the whole ecology of a vineyard: every aspect of its surroundings from bedrock to late frosts and autumn mists, not excluding the way a vineyard is tended, nor even the soul of vigneron (winemaker)."
|Springbank Distillery // June, 2014|
Also when we talk about wine, we talk about a fermented drink rested in stainless steel or concrete vessels or in lightly toasted, sometime neutral oak casks for a considerably shorter period than any whisky. It all makes perfect sense that all the qualities of a terroir are carried throughout this process into the wine bottle but is the case the same for a distilled product? How much of terroir survives the distillation process, and if a significant amount does how much of it stays reasonably conserved after years and years aging in charred oak casks? If they do it's amazing and cannot wait to see it, but it's going to take years if not decades to prove.
|Cote de Beaune // May, 2011|
Speaking of differences between distillers and winemakers a strong consequence of working with terroir is also respecting and accepting the inconsistencies between vintages. Is the whisky industry ready to embrace the unpredictability of the quality of their grain supply between harvests after committing to one farm only? Or are they ready to give up irrigation systems to get the most out of their terroir? Hard to tell... French soil scientist and wine consultant Claude Bourguignon once famously said to an Australian winemaker: "If it is impossible to grow vines without irrigation in a vineyard then you have no terroir."* Winemakers have been always at the mercy of nature. A hailstorm or mildew or an extreme rainy or hot year can cause severe damage to their crops shutting them down completely for that vintage. Even the big producers like Chateau d'Yquem had to skip vintages in their history.
Both terroir and using different barley or grain types are highly innovative and incredibly exciting ideas in whisky making which could push the industry to its limits and create a new generation of fresh-minded whisky makers and eliminate the lazy practices of some others. But in my opinion whisky industry should introduce its own terms and write its own rulebook instead of appropriating wine practices and diluting their definitions.
|Bowmore Distillery // November, 2009|
Edited by Teresa Hartmann.
*from The Sommelier's Atlas of Taste