An email from Dr John Possingham AM (Possums Vineyard, McLaren Vale):
“I was saddened to see Yalumba, a hitherto conservative wine company, joining Penfolds, by ‘creating’ a multi-regional wine with the release of their Caley red containing little dollops of wine from two quite distinct SA wine regions and two different grape varieties. What has happened to the concept of terroir?
“I guess I was even more saddened that it received such a high score from our national tasters.
Perhaps we shall soon get to the stage of spiking our ‘best’ wines with a range of flavour compounds. Currently permitted as long as they are derived from concentrating and separating out from grape juice or wine the compounds that confer desirable flavours in wine. I guess in time we may be able to buy the so-called ‘pepper’ flavour so sought after in shiraz wines.”
There has been a lot of debate about terroir in TKR over the past couple of months, even more via the chat group of long-in-the-tooth but far from past-it current and retired members of industry and trade (apologies to those younger chat contributors).
Dr Possingham can make of terroir what he will. TKR has settled on its broad parameters being climate (the main factor) and general ground siting (second), with other factors so malleable that it makes you wonder if it can really be called natural terroir.
As for terroir and the grape varieties best suited to certain areas, do most consumers care which grapes are in their wine? What makes Bordeaux Bordeaux, Burgundy Burgundy or the Mosel Mosel to them? Great estates, famous names and regional recognition play a huge part even if they never drink them. As a child if I asked mum for money (for any reason) the frequent response was, “Who do you think I am? Rothschild?” I doubt my mother knew who Rothschild was, but he was rich, she knew that. After reputation, grape varieties mean little, but I suspect the fact there are laws limiting varieties somehow resonates with consumers as a quality factor.
Even if we go to a level up, to a consumer with some knowledge of grape varieties, in this case a UK consumer, here’s a fictional Q&A:
Bordeaux has which red grape varieties? “Cabernet and merlot and, er, some other sorts.” And for white? “Ah.”
What about Burgundy? “That’s easy: it’s chardonnay for white and pinot noir for red.”
And the Mosel? “Easy, riesling.”
Consumers, even those with some knowledge, rarely think about allowed Bordeaux varieties such as carmenere, ugni blanc or colombard. Nor do they consider sauvignon blanc or melon and aligote in Burgundy, or elbling, Muller-Thurgau or pinot noir in the Mosel.
Imagine if Coonawarra had laws like those in Bordeaux, and predominantly grew cabernet and other varieties that blended well with it; the Barossa only grew shiraz with some minor varieties that blend with it; and the Mornington Peninsula grew just pinot noir and chardonnay. With the whole kit and caboodle wrapped in red tape, I suspect the consumer would think they had a better understanding of Australian regions, and hence, their terroir.
Wine folk often fail to understand the lack of knowledge of the average wine drinker. And average wine drinkers make up the vast majority. It’s very hard for most UK or even US consumers to grasp that good riesling can be grown on this spot here and great shiraz grown up the road on that patch of dirt there, with fabulous chardonnay coming from over the hill. Not only that, but the finished wines all have the one producer’s name on the label.
I fully understand Dr Possingham’s view but it is one from the font of knowledge, not one from those who don’t understand and more so don’t really care. There is a section of the Australian wine industry that is getting caught up in thinking that when they attend so-called consumer shows they are making contact. They are, but only with the converted and already faithful. Nor are statistics from intelligence-gathering groups to be relied on. All help, but the understanding of the true consumer, those who drink 80 to 90 per cent of wine produced, is woeful.
The consumer who walks into cellar door is not in the main the average consumer. They are a consumer already interested enough to want to spend half an hour in a winery. I could go on but let’s not.