I have often remarked that my favorite wine “guru”
is Hugh Johnson. I quote him prolifically in my newsletters
and make every attempt to read his books and watch his videos.
I credit Mr. Johnson with sparking in me a lifetime passion
for wine beginning nearly 20 years ago.
Of course I’ve never met Mr. Johnson and probably
never will, but that doesn’t make him any less a fine
teacher. I recently read an older book of his, entitled
The Vintner’s Art: How Great Wines Are Made
(1992), a book he co-wrote with James Halliday.
In the opening chapters of the book, Mr. Johnson and Mr.
Halliday hit upon the near perfect explanation of terroir.
In the book, they describe terroir as part
of a tripod that describes the key aspects by which all
fine wine is judged. The tripod consists of the following
- Character, which is defined by Terrior.
- Quality, which is defined by winemaking.
- Personality, which is defined by weather
So what does this all mean? The modern
winemaker has proven that grapes can be grown just about
anywhere and wine of respectable quality can usually be
produced from those grapes. Witness the dramatic improvement
in quality across the globe as a result of better viticulture
and vinification techniques. Truly, winemaking has a strong
hand in defining the quality of the wine we drink.
Why the distinction between weather and climate?
Climate is the long-term averages of weather conditions
in a particular region, whereas weather is the day-to-day
fluctuations of those climatic averages. Weather can destroy
a vintage or create the “vintage of the century,”
but climate determines which grapes can be grown to maximum
success in a particular region. The uniqueness of a wine’s
personality from year-to-year is defined by weather, not
How does character differ from personality?
Character runs deep, which evokes the perfect image of the
role of terroir in the making of fine wine. Personality
connotes mood, which varies from moment to moment, like
the effect of weather on a particular wine vintage. Character
is the set of distinguishing attributes that mark the essential
differences between wines made around the world. Character
is like the value systems that we learn from our parents,
unique lessons taught over a lifetime that create the individuals
that we are. terroir is that set of elements that
craft the character of wine, creating the truly distinguishing
features that define the differences between Cabernet Sauvignon
grown in Bordeaux versus Cabernet Sauvignon grown in California.
A Contrast Between Old and New >