Bringing it Home: Biodynamics Brings Terroir to the Melting Pot

The English language has no accurate translation for the French word terroir. The closest thing we have is terrain, a word designed strictly to denote the way a land lays, a word for describing surfaces. Terrain says something, but far from everything, about terroir. At its closest, terrain is perhaps to terroir what a page is to a book, though terroir as a concept is admittedly more slippery.

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It was Wendell Barry who said: If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are. His observation reveals much about what is at the heart of the meaning of terroir: that the character of a thing is informed by its origins. While here in the States we hear terroir most frequently in regards to wine, for the French, terroir can be associated with anything, even traditional clothing or furniture. Terroir, a far more abstract notion than terrain, encompasses the intangible signature given to a thing by the invisible energies of a place over time. Or perhaps it only seems more abstract to our American minds because ours is a culture of motion and transience. For a land so rooted in rootlessness, so addicted to change, the concept of terroir requires a seemingly impossible leap. We who, for the last couple of centuries, have transplanted ourselves and our families to wherever the opportunies and abundances are, have fostered an alternative mode of survival which involves discarding the past and peering restlessly into the ever-distant and hopeful horizon of the future.

And yet, terroir seems to be haunting us more than ever. Lacking an adequate surrogate in our own language, we have merely lifted it, as is, from the french, and adopted it for ourselves. Even with the word at their disposal, many winemakers don’t know how to make it something that their wines actually possess.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.