While I may never become a fully fledge wine geek, some aspects of wine geekery fascinate me.
The gritty business of terroir is one of them.
What even is terroir?
It’s French ( of course it is!) for ‘sense of place.’
Terroir is the entire environmental box and dice that defines wine produced in a specific location. It’s the alchemy that happens in your glass when a particular grape meets a particular soil in a specific topography in a particular climate.
At the risk of seeming disloyal, my first lesson in terroir came courtesy of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I adore this kiwi drop, and I’d know it anywhere. Why? Because that sharp citrusy lusciousness is terroir de Marlborough. Sunny day and cold nights make for slow ripening grapes that retain high malic acid. I’ve no idea about malic acid science, but I instantly recognise the deeply flavoursome, lemony result.
If you’d like a deeper dive into the sub-regional differences in Marlborough, be my guest.
Does terroir matter?
Opinions vary on how and how much, and you’ll find some lively debate about this on the internet. This piece from the Wine Spectator is an oldy but a goody on why terror will always matter.
Settlers brought wine grapes to Western Australia in the 1830s. Serious terroir-based vineyard biz began officially around 130 years later.
Early honours go to Dr. Tom Cullity dubbed ‘the mad doctor from Perth by sceptical locals. He planted the eight experimental acres in Cowaramup that became Vasse Felix.
The rest, as they say, is history……
The Wine Australia website has an overview of the terroir in each of the South West’s main sub-regions.
If you’re keen for detail on rainfall, latitude, etc., it’s a useful starting point.
Here’s my short version plus a recommendation from each region.
Originally famous for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon but now also renowned for loads of experimental varietals, Margaret River terroir is a story about ancient gravelly soils and cooling ocean breezes. If you care for comparisons, we’re the southern hemisphere’s Bordeaux.
Have a two minute listen to some brilliant local winemakers talking about terroir.
Then test your terroir smarts on this delectable Dawson Estate Semillon Sauvignon Blanc
The Geographe Region
Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Shiraz grow well in the predominantly sandy, limestone soils of this coastal and inland region stretching from Mandurah to Busselton and inland to Collie. High winter rainfall and humidity play their part in growing distinctively delicious wine, as does the permanent water table.
The Blackwood Valley
Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Shiraz are grown in the valley region’s well-drained gravel soils and red and yellow earth slopes.
Winter frosts and slightly higher summer temperature separate the Blackwood Valley conditions from nearby Margaret River. Both regions have good wet and cool winters and lovely dry summers
Enjoy this charming Blackwood Valley wine
Chardonnay, Merlot, and Pinot Noir are grown in this cool climate region.
Clay layers help hold water in generally gravelly loamy soils.
Fertile Karri loams supported by abundant rainfall create excellent growing conditions.
Put Pemberton wine on your ‘must-have’ list. Start with this one.
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot grow well in this large, diverse region. The great Southern encompasses coastal Albany and Denmark, and the inland areas of Mt Barker, the Porongorups, and the Frankland River.
Soil types mirror the gravelly, granite loams found in Margaret River. Higher clay content, cooler temperatures, and moderate soil fertility also influence the range and styles of wines grown in the Great Southern
Have a glass or two of Great Southern gorgeousness.
Terroir and you
Living in the South West is a privilege for loads of reasons. Not least of which is the subtle and exciting variety in our regional wine.
If you throw local winemaking skills in the mix with terroir, we’re truly blessed by the gods and goddesses of the grape.
I invite you to map your South West wine adventure.
Start taking note of terroir. Look for patterns. Do your best-loved wines come from the same sub-region? Can you taste the terroir in an old favourite or a new find?
Keen to talk terroir? I’m listening