The Allure of Terroir

The Allure of Terroir

Frank J. Prial, the celebrated New York Times columnist and author of the famous Wine Talk said that “Wine drinking goes back at least six thousand years. Wine writing probably began a year or two later.” Wine has ‘magical powers’. It creates very strong bonds between people and places, between plants and earth, between aromas and flavours. The feeling of belonging, of place – this is the secret of terroir’s allure.

It is necessary to marry sciences to determine, once and for all, if terroir is the expression of a combination of climactic, biological and geological variables and soil management techniques, biodiversity and water, or a rather vague concept, wrapped in mysticism. A kind of winemaking fairy tale.

Think Small

For decades, scientific teams have attempted to discover what was hidden in the mysterious concept of terroir. Was this just an elaborate fantasy of French winemakers to boost the value and prestige of their wines? Or an example of critics’ natural tendency to distinguish their musings from others’ through almost extrasensory abilities, whose descriptions left many, from the average wine drinker to the prissiest connoisseur, utterly delirious? The secret was elusive and, just when the mystery seemed to be unravelling, it often slipped through our metaphorical fingers, leaving more questions than answers. However, gradually, things began moving in the right direction, in the direction of microscopic biodiversity.

For decades, we have seen the secrets of yeast being unravelled. However, we are still trying to understand how commercial yeasts, the product of the latest biotechnological knowledge, interact with indigenous yeasts, uncontrolled examples produced from the ecosystem. After all, vineyards are a kind of productive ecosystem, open to interaction with their surroundings. So, to what extent do the ‘seasonings’ from soil and natural vegetation merge with the intrinsic characteristics of each grape variety, creating unlikely micro combinations that will determine terroir’s charm?

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From Reguengos to Covelhinhas, the secret is there for all to see
Organic farming, or ecological variations in production methods, contribute to the balance and variety of soil micro-organisms and the ecosystem, boosting the resilience of underground root networks, mycelium and colonies of bacteria, algae and insects, as well as others less well-known organisms. It’s like a jungle. There is a fight for survival and, with a natural selection of organisms that contribute most to environmental stability, it creates unique alliances between soils, microclimates and biodiversity.

At Esporão, considerable work has been done on soil and biodiversity over the years: we have reorganised areas of vineyards to retrieve original water lines, planted thousands of shrubs and trees to make the productive ecosystem more resilient, boosting biodiversity that is also beneficial to conservation, we have spoken to and learned from our employees and consultants to develop the best sustainable management practices for vineyards and olive groves. Today, we are literally reaping the investment we have sown, with wines and olive oils that make us extremely enthusiastic about this vision of the future.

At Quinta dos Murças, we find ourselves at an earlier stage of this vision. We only started here in 2008 and have a new winemaker, who brings fresh ideas and important questions that need to be answered. The terrain at Murças is curious. When it comes to rocks and minerals, there are some surprising elements that we’re still studying and which form soils that produce very complex blends with interesting aromas. The surrounding biodiversity, with various species of mushrooms and cork and holm oak groves containing arbutus, rockrose and many other species of annual plants and shrubs, also lends very particular notes to these wines. The soil microorganisms, the rich habitats, boasting both Mediterranean and Atlantic influences, and careful management of old and new vineyards are, undoubtedly, the source of the terroir that can be seen in the laboratory and, later, in the bottle that will be opened and enjoyed.
Is it Magic?
Eca de Queiroz said: “It is the heart that makes character.”

Perhaps this is the best answer. Terroir may be the product of the combination of several variables; such as putting our heart and soul into what we do, our love for the land and respect for nature’s cycles, the thirst for knowledge that takes us that bit further, dedication to plants and their fruit and the determination to offer the best in every bottle we produce. These are the variables that help define the character of what is ours.