Randall Grahm on Terroir


In one fell swoop of the word processor, Randall Grahm has defined the value of two controversial topics: terroir and biodynamic. In an entertaining and eloquent paper for the Terroir Conference at UC Davis, Grahm has clearly defined terroir, a concept that for some reason so many choose to deny.

Notes Grahm in his paper, “Terroir is a composite of many physical factors – soil structure and composition, topography, exposition, micro-climate as well as more intangible cultural factors. Matt Kramer once very poetically defined terroir as “somewhere-ness,” and this I think is the nub of the issue. I believe that “somewhereness” is absolutely linked to beauty, that beauty reposes in the particulars; we love and admire individuals in a way that we can never love classes of people or things. Beauty must relate to some sort of internal harmony; the harmony of a great terroir derives, I believe, from the exchange of information between the vine-plant and its milieu over generations. The plant and the soil have learned to speak each other’s language, and that is why a particularly great terroir wine seems to speak with so much elegance.”

Somewhere-ness is the essence of what makes wine intellectually and emotional simulating.

Continues Grahm, “A great terroir is the one that will elevate a particular site above that of its neighbors. It will ripen its grapes more completely more years out of ten than its neighbors; its wines will tend to be more balanced more of the time than its unfortunate contiguous confrères. But most of all, it will have a calling card, a quality of expressiveness, of distinctiveness that will provoke a sense of recognition in the consumer, whether or not the consumer has ever tasted the wine before.”

Expressiveness, distinctiveness: words that should be more compelling to wine lovers than opulent, rich or powerful.

On biodynamics Grahm writes, “biodynamics is perhaps the most straightforward path to the enhanced expression of terroir in one’s vineyard. Its express purpose is to wake up the vines to the energetic forces of the universe, but its true purpose is to wake up the biodynamicist himself or herself.”

Let’s repeat that again because its meaning is so significant, “its true purpose is to wake up the biodynamicist himself or herself.” In other words putting the winemaker in visceral contact with their vineyards. It is this connection that produces truly unique and characterful wines.

Anyone straining to understand these two concepts should read and re-read this very meaningful piece. Compliments to for getting Randall’s comments out to the public.

Click here to read the entire paper by Randall Grahm

Randall Grahm on Terroir - Santa Cruz Mountains.