Into Wine: Terroir = soil + climate + humans
This article is actually about the book “Into Wine” by Olivier Magny and how it pertains to the Napa Valley. Olivier is an outspoken Parisian sommelier and wine educator. I found the book to be a fun read, with little wine jargon and a lot of practical advice for both the wine beginner and the wine aficionado. The big pitch in “Into Wine” is terroir. Olivier Magny suggests rather strongly that we seek out wines that exhibit the character of the place.
With passion he talks about how terroir gives meaning and life to a bottle of wine. Its uniqueness is the result of the soil, climate, the vineyard grower and the winemaker. It is about the caring of the soil and the vines that imbue a special quality to the wine. It is about the winemaker who cares enough to let the soil and climate shine through in his or her winemaking and cellar techniques. Mostly, terroir wines are ones where sustainable farming is the creed. That means dry farming and no use of chemical pesticides or herbicides. This is a growing trend throughout the wine world, and I know that many Napa Valley wineries are in this category and others are making an effort to go in this direction.
I have made a list of the Napa Valley wineries that practice some type of organic farming. The list continues to grow and ranges from wineries that do some organic farming to ones that are certified biodynamic. There is also the program established by the Napa Valley Vintners Association that grants “Napa Green Certified Land” and “Napa Green Certified Winery” to wineries that meet the qualifying standards. See Napa Green. There are some 400 wineries in the Napa Valley so you can see that there is a long road ahead.
We visit the Napa Valley often and we have noticed in recent years signs of change. We see more cover crops in winter and spring, grazing animals, organic vegetable gardens and more dry farming. We see many, many wineries with solar panels. Although solar panels have no effect on the grapes, they are an important aspect in the sustainability of a winery.
We also observe that the whole idea of organics and sustainability carries through to the tasting room. In general, the focus is different with less of a sales push and more towards a human aspect. It’s more about how their wines are good because they have been attentive to the soil. They care that we are getting a bottle of wine that shows the character of their vineyards. I love finding wineries like these. They are so much more enjoyable than listening to a long spiel about each wine and asking me if I can detect a bit of anise character in the nose.
As for Olivier Magny, he pitches “buy only the wines that are made with terroir in mind.” He states that there are many excellent wines under $20 in this category. That is one area where it is hard to find Napa Valley wines in this price range, especially in the red wines. Nonetheless, if you heed the Magny code, choose your Napa Valley wines wisely and support the wineries that are environmentally friendly. It is the right thing to do.