Bicknell attacks terroir

David Bicknell (Photo: Oakridge Wines)

Australia’s newest winemaker of the year, David Bicknell of Oakridge, has fired a shot at the French use of terroir as a marketing tool.

Speaking at the inaugural Pinot Noir Alliance in London last week, Bicknell pointed out that different winemakers using grapes from the same vineyards often produced wines that tasted quite different. In other words, ‘house style’ trumped vineyard character, or terroir.

Other commentators countered that terroir was still very important, otherwise why does Oakridge itself bottle a multitude of individual vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs?

However, Bicknell’s main point, as I see it, was that the French have over-emphasised the role of terroir for their own marketing advantage. What he didn’t say (or at least wasn’t reported in the Drinks Business article) was that the French have been using terroir as a tool to impress upon the world that their wines are unique, and uncopyable. At the root of this idea is that each plot of vineyard (in Burgundy, for example) embodies a unique set of geological, geographical and climatic influences. Unique means unique: the exact same set of conditions is not to be found anywhere else on the face of the Earth. If you accept that wine is a product of its physical environment, it follows that the wine from that piece of land is also unique.

That is why Burgundians seldom speak of pinot noir, or clones thereof, instead talking about a wine as being a good or less-good example of a Chambertin, Volnay or Clos Vougeot. Pinot noir is simply the vehicle for the transmission of terroir.

To use terroir in this way effectively rules out the possibility of other regions and countries comparing their wines with Burgundy’s. It denies competition.

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