What is Le Terroir?

May 22, 2015

Le Terroir, from terre (land), is the set of special characteristics that the geography, the geology and the climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics, express themself in agricultural products. These characteristics are often measured in wine, coffee, chocolate, cheese, chili peppers, honey and tea.

Terroir can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product. Terroir is often italicized in English writing to show that it is a French “loan word.”

Over the centuries, French winemakers developed the concept of terroir by observing the differences in wines from different regions, vineyards, or even different sections of the same vineyard. The French began to crystallize the concept of terroir as a way of describing the unique aspects of a place that influence and shape the wine made from it.

For most of its history, Burgundy was cultivated by the literate and disciplined members of the Benedictine and Cistercian orders. With vast land holdings, the monks were able to conduct large-scale observation of the influences that various parcels of land had on the wine it produced. Some legends have the monks going as far as “tasting” the soil. Over time, the monks compiled their observations and began to establish the boundaries of different terroirs, many of which still exist today.