The wine world is full of terminology that sometimes seems almost other worldly. They aren't words that are often used in everyday conversation. Whilst we love to use expressive terms to describe the flavours of wine and particular grape varieties the technical words are not exactly stimulating dinner conversation…
I think the wine industry is guilty of not sharing the simplified meaning of words. It means that for many people wine still seems to be something that people are intimidated by. One of the words that is often used like that is Terroir, (Te wah). It comes from the French word and simply put means land or earth. The land where vines are planted whether in South Cave or Stellenbosch will with time have a big influence on the eventual flavours of the wine. There are other factors that we take into consideration. This picture shows the other things that are the main contributors to the flavour of wines.
Climate is usually key to what sort of grape varieties will work. In the run up to harvest the average temperature in the Barossa Valley in Australia is 28 degrees. Long sunny days, cool nights make it a great climate for the grapes they're famous for, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot. If we were to plant those at Little Wold then we would never make any wine. It simply isn't hot enough for those grape varieties to work for us. The result is our vines are right for our climate, they aren't household names. Varieties such as Phoenix, Seyval, and Rondo are not on the end aisles of major supermarkets. They have their origins in Germany and deal far better with the fact that as we know, we are never guaranteed quite as much sun as we would like.
Soil is one of the biggest influence over vines. There are vines planted all over the world on many different types of soil. The key to it is to have free draining soils. Grapes like most crops need a combination of sun, rain and the right levels of moisture. Sand, Gravel, Clay are all common but one of the best is chalk. Chalk is perfect for grapes that have a good naturally high acidity. It allows the roots of the vine to easily penetrate and take hold. Roots can grow up to 15ft and as they pull up nutrients and hit pockets of water that chalk has an influence over the flavour of the grapes. Chalk provides outstanding natural drainage. If we look at the majority of wine production in the South of England, Champagne and parts of the Loire valley, chalk plays a part in all of these areas. We at Little Wold are also on chalk. We have a very small topsoil before we are deep into the chalk and it’s that lends itself incredibly well to the vines that we have planted and are planting. Our older vines that we planted have started to show the classic mineral and flinty notes associated with chalk.
Topography – In essence this simply is about where you choose to site your vineyard. Soil as we know plays an important part but knowing a few simple things can help give you the best chance of you vines taking to the soil. Topography has a wide scope of geographical elements, for example, altitude, proximity to hills, inclined land portions, or areas close to water bodies. At Little Wold most people will see that our vines are planted at the top of the Hills we are on. Hot air rises and as a result when we experience those nights, mornings where it is much colder than we expected, we give ourselves a better chance of avoiding frost. We are also only a few miles from the Humber. Large bodies of water tend to have a moderating effect on the climate locally. That influence is seen in places like the Mosel in Germany. One of the countries warmest regions but grows arguably some of the best Riesling, (higher acidity) in the world. It is the influence from the River Rhine that helps to moderate that warmer climate and help Riesling reach its peak ripeness.
These can have an effect on how your grapes will eventually taste. Forests and woodland release a huge amount of humidity and play a large part in influencing local climate. When you have large amounts of trees near to your vineyard sites, they offer protection from strong winds. In places such as Australia many vineyards have seem the influence of eucalyptus trees lending that intense minty character to some vines, particularly the Cabernet Sauvignon in Coonawarra, South Australia. In Provence there is a huge amount of rosemary planted and it can defiantly be detected in some of the wines. Vegetation can also be a great tool in attracting pests and keeping them away from your vines.
So soil, the weather, the location and the surroundings are the component parts of terroir. One of the things that people often ask us is how do we grow grapes this far north. Well, when we examine the grapes varieties we grow, our soil, the locations on our farm that we have chosen to plant we feel we have the perfect location to grow grapes. The weather is always a challenge but as we approach our 5th full vintage, we feel that the terroir in South Cave is helping us achieve great wines.