7 Oh, The Places You’ll Go
“Place” is the biggest racket in the Wine Snob World. For centuries, wine snobs have been fighting over the definition of where their wine comes from. What I mean, is, they want to set up borders, name those borders, and then have that name be synonymous with the “terroir” (ter-wah) of their region. Terroir is a French word, or maybe a French concept, that has been explained to me three ways: 1) as dirt; 2) as the micro climate and everything around the area of the vine; and 3) a really airy-fairy, but interesting description by a young man pouring me kick-ass Archery Summit Pinot Noir up in BFE Oregon, otherwise known as the Willamette Valley.
Me and a fellow Wine Blonde Bestie, we’ll call her CiCi, decided to crash a seminar her company was putting on in Bend, Oregon. She needed a date, I needed a va-cay, so we met in Portland, and decided to drive to Bend by way of Oregon wine country. A good decision, I must admit. Oregon is very different than Napa, or other overly-commercial wine regions. You feel kind of like you step back in time, and enter the Andy Griffith Show. Deputy Barney Fife may just pull you over if you get caught over-indulging in this small-town area.
Although the feeling was small and laid back, the rolling green hills, lush surroundings, and delicious pinot noirs made the Willamette Valley an instant hit. I was in charge of the winery stops, and CiCi was in charge of driving. Our first stop was the Ponzi tasting room because, at the time, I practiced white collar criminal defense, and it seemed reasonably related to work. The work bit, was really hard, I mean swigging bright-red fruit flavored wines in a lush green setting was tough to palate. We left Ponzi, and headed up a steep hill to arrive at a simple winery over looking one of the most beautiful vineyards I’ve ever seen… Archery Summit.
Archery Summit was known for world-class pinot noirs, and their reputation was on the money. As we entered, the tasting room was less than half full, so we made instant friends with our bar keep. He was a mountain-looking guy, who I found out, was studying to take the Oregon Bar Examination. I lamented his plight. Studying for the bar is about as fun as getting paper cuts on your eyeball. Anyway, the young man generously poured the usual line up, and then opened up some of the library wines for us. As we sipped on a wine that was no longer commercially available, I asked a question that had been bothering me. “I always here the term “Terrior” thrown around. What does it actually mean?”
With both palms planted firmly on the bar, he leaned in, and gave an excellent description in his deep and authoritative voice, “Terroir is not just a word. It is a concept. The concept is that at one moment in time, at one particular place, everything comes together to make a truly unique wine that has its own life force. The components which culminate together to form this creation are the earth itself, and the fossils, nutrients, and compounds in the soil. It also involves the weather patterns for that season, and how much rain, temperatures, or wind has effected the vine. It even includes the universe’s cycles, the moon’s phases, and the pull of the tide. All of these things come together at one tiny place to create something that is distinct, unique, and unlike any other thing…and that concept is Terroir.”
I was sold, shit, I bought a case, and promised him I was stealing his description…so here it is. If you buy into the concept of Terroir, you can see why some people may want to protect the area in which their wine is grown by naming it, and having that name mean something. These names of areas are generally what you have to learn to under stand the concept of “Place.”
Place (or “Appellation” for wine snobs): Where the grape is grown will give you the other 10% of what you need to know about the wine to fake like you’re a wine snob. To start at a macro level, the wine universe is divided into two worlds: the Old World, and the New World.
The New World consist of the Western Hemisphere, Australia, and South Africa. The Old World is everywhere else. Determining the “Place” can get very complicated. However, a formula exists to decode micro-places, and much of it is simply based on memory. Think of “Places” like a Russian nesting egg. The Old World is the biggest egg, and the next biggest egg is the country where the wine was grown.
For example, let’s assume we’re drinking a wine that comes from a Country in the Old World. In our example, lets use France because it’s the most complicated. Within France, there are “appellations,” or areas that have been designated by the French government to have unique atmosphere, earth, and surroundings (“Terroir”). Within those appellations, are villages or towns that have been known to produce a certain kind of wine. Within those villages or towns, single Chateau, (French for wine producing estate) may be considered a more micro-“Place” from which a wine may be produced.
France gives even Master Sommeliers a headache, so don’t stress too much about the nesting-eggs that make up the “Places” within France. I just use the Russian Nesting Egg as an example of how appellations work. To fully grasp the significance of different places, you will have to just memorize a bunch of shit. Is it worth it? Probably not. I would find about 10 different places you really like, and get to know those. Hell, go there. Nothing helps you fall in love with wine, or remember a place, quite like a Wine Trip.