Score one for terroir.

~I’m no longer producing wine, but I like to keep abreast of what’s going on in viticulture and viniculture, so I attend seminars that are offered locally by Cornell University’s Geneva Agricultural Station, in the Finger Lakes region of New York, my hometown.
~Tomorrow I am on my way to the agricultural station for a seminar on yeast trials with Riesling, the regions’ premier grape variety (I’ll write about the results later).
~A few weeks ago I attended a Riesling clone trial at the agricultural station, the results of which may surprise one or two wine critics and globe-trotting consultants.

In viticulture, cloned vines are developed from parent grape species and varieties to try to capture certain characteristics both for viability in a region and for desired results in the wine.

One way to test whether or not developed clones—or clones in development—produce the desired results is of course a series of trials that subject the clones to the same treatment to see how they respond.

~The Riesling trial concerned two clones and wines produced from the grapes of each clone grown at four separate Finger Lakes vineyard locations.
~The grapes were handled in the same manner from site to site, all stats—sugar, acids, alcohol, etc.—were set at the same standards plus the winemaking process was also the same for all wines. The idea was to find out whether under the exact conditions one clone or another produced an identifiably superior or at least different wine.
~The experiment was done for winemakers and so the room was filled with them. Other than the academics who attended, I was the only non-winemaker in attendance. But like the local winemakers, I have had extensive experience with local Rieslings, so my familiarity with the various attributes of Riesling produced on each of the major Finger Lakes production zones was in line with the rest of the crowd.
~The eight wines we tasted represented three of the lakes: Cayuga, Seneca, and Keuka, and it seemed that piece of information turned out to be the most important in the trials, that and the specific location of the vineyard sites.
~Generally, the group was not much enamored with the wines—they were neither representative nor consistent with the quality we have come to associate with Finger Lakes Riesling. In fact, one or two samples didn’t even taste like Riesling. The clones themselves did not impress us.
~What did impress us, however, was that we could tell the differences among the wines based on their site location.
~It wasn’t that we could identify with accuracy exactly where the grapes had been grown, although in one case it was obvious to me. It was that, even though the grapes and wines had been produced with the exact stats and in the exact production method, as well as at the same production facility, there was something unique about each wine.
~We unanimously decided that the unique quality that we had identified in each wine likely had to do with the four separate vineyard sites—put another way: terroir appears to have made the difference.

In a great deal of winemaking, certainly in a great deal of wine criticism, prevailing wisdom places importance for wine’s uniqueness and wonder squarely on the winemaking process.

In life, nothing is so damned conclusive, let alone self-assured, as a wine critic—and that can certainly be said both for what it is that influences wine the most and for the wine itself.

Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar, just as sure as a fermented juice really is a reflection of its plot of land.

Incidentally, I don’t see many critics at these trials… 

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
June, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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