Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Taste Dirt…Discerning Terroir In Wine

You know, when people talk about Terroir affecting the flavor of their wines, I tend to chuckle a little. It isn’t that I don’t believe wines taste different based on the place the grapes are from. It is just, well, my childishness comes out. When people start talking terroir I get visions of them drinking mud. Weird, I know. But, I just have a hard time believing that the dirt that a wine is grown in really has that big of an effect on flavor. Call me a skeptic.

I will admit that wines grown in different regions and climates have a distinctive flavor profile. However, I think that difference comes from the winemaker, the cooperage, and the style or process that the wine was made with. The conclusion I’ve come to over the years is that wine is like any other art form. Regionally, people have a standard that they like to see in their wine, and they train themselves to be just like everyone else on the block.

Now I’m being challenged in my thinking. Dr. Allan Busacca, a geologist and agricultural soils expert, has paired up with Robert Smasne, wine giant and owner of Smasne Cellars. They are releasing their Alma Terra Label together as a true experiment in terroir.

This experiment is not for them. They have already done their painstaking research and packaged it neatly for you to take home and experiment with your friends and family. The real purpose is to allow childish skeptics like me to see once and for all that dirt does make a difference.

The first version of this experiment was chosen to be Syrah. Busacca and Smasne chose three distinctly famous vineyards throughout Eastern Washington to do their project. After picking the lots they painstakingly made sure that the grapes were grown the same, picked at the same brix, pressed, fermented, aged, and bottled in the same way from the same year.

The sources of these grapes were Ciel du Cheval from Red Mountain, Coyote Canyon from Horse Heaven Hills, and Minick from the Yakima Valley. Knowing these were the vineyards will automatically make any wine fanatic realize that these are the top Syrah vineyards in the state, and possibly in the Northern Hemisphere.

A fourth bottle was also produced that mixes generous amounts of each of these vineyards to create a gorgeous blend of the best of the best. The name of this wine is Coéo, which is a Latin term for “coming together”.

As I mentioned earlier, the experiment has been painstakingly prepared for you to try. A beautiful four bottle gift box complete with beautifully designed cards explaining each of the vineyards and wines is available at the winery.

If you are visiting Woodinville, near Seattle, I suggest stopping by their tasting room. Their address is 19495 144th Ave. NE. Suite B240. The website is You can also follow them on Facebook.

By the way, yours truly was the photographer who brought over 100 lbs of rocks and dirt into my studio to create the style image and bottle shots for this label. Believe me, after hours of shooting bottles in dirt you do taste terroir!

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