When it comes to fine wine, no two vintages are ever the same. This is due in large part to the variation that is represented by the huge diversity in the different regions that all produce their own wine. Even between regions that are geographically very near to one another, there can be a number of distinguishing features that will determine the wine that a certain vineyard produces. The French term, terroir, is often used to describe the specific character of fine wine that these different features produce. There is no official accepted definition of the term outside of its literal translation; “sense of place”, however, its easier to demarcate a set of parameters that all come together to create the terroir that a certain wine possesses.
Soil composition plays a major part in the character of a wine as it is responsible for providing the various nutrients that the grapes require to flourish. Soils that are used to grow grapes are, curiously enough, usually quite unsuitable for other types of agriculture. Vines, however, can survive in a huge variety of soils, including rocks and clay heavy compositions. Soil colour can influence the degree to which it absorbs the heat from the sun and, therefore, the temperature at which the vines grow. Additionally, changes in drainage can also help to keep moisture in, altering the amount of water the vines sit in as they grow. As a general trend, clay soils tend to produce a bold, full flavour, while sandy soils result in a drier wine.
Temperature is also another important variable in the resultant terroir. This refers not to the day-to-day fluctuations, but to the overall average temperature of a region in which the vines are grown. The overall temperature of a region will of course change with the seasons and other meteorological processes that occur in the natural cycle of a vine’s life. Warmer regions will result in the grapes ripening easier, which generally means they will have a higher sugar content and a darker natural colour. Simon, a wine master from UKV International says that, ’These grapes tend to create fruitier and bolder vintages. Conversely, cooler regions will make it more difficult for the grapes to ripen and the lower sugar levels will result in a more acidic, drier wine. Grapes grown in a cooler temperature will also more likely to be lighter in body and characteristically more “refreshing” then heavier vintages.’