French Terroir vs. California Innovation: You Decide
There is a great deal of controversy over the validity of the French concept of terroir in California. For those of you who don’t know, terroir is the physical, chemical, and social factors that affect a piece of land and the wine that it produces.
Physical and chemical factors (climate and soil) have a strong influence on the resulting wine; and in France, the social aspect (customs and laws) also plays a major role. On the other hand, the California wine industry is not constrained by these social forces.
The difference arises from the laws of the French AOC system. These laws govern everything from the varietals that can be planted, to trellis systems, to grape yields per hectare. The famous French vineyard, Le Montrachet, is required by law to plant Chardonnay and use specified viticultural and vinification techniques.
There are no such laws in California. California’s vineyard owners are free to decide for themselves which grapes are best for their land. This freedom allows for innovation and enabled the development of the New World wine style.
> If California’s wine industry were subject the laws of the French AOC system, some of the best wines in the world would have never been produced.
Napa Valley is widely recognized for its Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals. Under the AOC system, all vineyards in the Napa Valley would be required to plant these certain grapes, and for the most part the results would be great. However, one of the best wines from California, Mount Veeder’s Jade Mountain, Paras Vineyard Syrah would have never been produced.
Although there are benefits to the customs and laws of French terroir, it suffocates innovation and experimentation. It is up to you to decide which philosophy you prefer.