Terroir in Napa Valley Wine: Fantasy vs Reality

By nature, my mind has always rebelled against being force-fed facts like a goose whose ultimate destiny is foie gras.  But comes a time.....Comes a time when you need to prove you know the difference between your Charmat, Crémant and Charente...your Brouilly, Rully and brouillis...your Guyot, Grolleau and Grillo.  And evidently, for me, the time was now.

So.  30 hours of class, 105 hours of studying and 325 flash cards later, I've taken my first certification exam.  Those numbers strike me as being humorous, heroic and outrageous all at the same time -- which pretty much sums up my life since I moved to Napa Valley five months ago, so why should a certification exam be any exception?

I'll find out the results in a couple of months.  People ask, "Why will it take a couple of months?"  I personally no longer ask questions like that.  Because I'm getting certified.  And I'm no longer playing by the rules of my own game.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  I don't even begin to ask why I need to know the answer to questions like, "What is the Bulgarian equivalent of the French quality classification "Appellation Contrôlée?"  The reason I need to know the answer to questions like that is clear.  It's because.  Just because. Yes, at first I had sneered at certification and the value placed upon it here in Napa Valley as to who gets one of the few and far between Real Jobs and who does not.  But now I sneer no more. 

With all of the facts I've stuffed into my head this past month it feels like it must be at least a couple of sizes bigger.  But I look in the mirror and reassure myself that everything remains the same.  And it does.  At least kind of.

But enough about me.  What about the grapes?  After that first heady burst of activity in late spring/early summer from bud break to flower to fruit set, for a couple of months it didn't seem like there was terrifically much going on in the vineyards at all.  The grapes were basically just hanging out and soaking up the sun – apparently saving their energy for important things to come. 

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But then one day I was walking alongside a vineyard and noticed that some of the grapes had changed color from green to purple.  Wow!  What an amazing metamorphosis for a wine lover to witness.  Having only ever seen that beautiful deep purple hue from the other side of a wine bottle, this was nothing less than a monumental moment of wondrous delight.

With my first exam over and some non-study time if only briefly on my hands, I decided to venture out of The Valley back into the Real World in search of things you sometimes can't very easily find here -- like convenience, availability, choices.  But upon my return I breathed an audible sigh of relief.  I felt like I was returning to Nirvana.

You get lost in something living here.   It's like a Never-Never Land for wine lovers.   Napa Valley is not just a place.  It's an entity.  It has unmistakable terroir

Heated arguments about whether or not there is any such thing as terroir are all the rage right now.  There are those who vehemently insist that the flavor of a grape is solely a function of rootstock and clonal selection.  That you could plant that plant anywhere and its grapes would taste the same.  That there is no such thing as a "sense of place."  That there is no such thing as terroir.

I've decided that arguing about terroir with people as blind to the truth as that is totally and completely pointless.  Because when it comes to terroir, if you don't get it, you just don't get it.  It's like trying to explain art to someone who sees it as merely paint on a piece of cloth.

Yes, some people argue that the flavor of the grapes is in no way affected by even so much as the soil in which they are grown let alone by that ethereal, intangible something I will state definitively affects both the grapes and the wine. 

But I think even those who are blind to the facts could still very clearly see that living here is certainly having an effect upon me.  And whether they would be comfortable using this specific term or not, I am.

I'm developing a bit of terroir.

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.