Terroir, Climats, and Wine Culture

Wine Culture

A new owl box in Block 50


In the most recent issue of Wine Spectator a particular short article stuck out.  A single page interview (March 2013 Wine Spectator p. 21) with Aubert de Villaine, co-director and co-owner of the famed Domaine de la Romanee Conti in Burgundy.  The discussion centered around an effort to designate the region (of Burgundy) a world heritage site, and more particularly around the term Climat.  As it is used in Burgundy Climat (which translates literally to ‘climate’) encompasses Terroir along with the social, anthropological, and technological history of a site.  Due in part to the way land passes between family members in Burgundy along with the cultural heritage and the subsequent wine culture of the region there are some 1248 individual Climats or ‘unique’ vineyard sites that may be designated on a bottle of wine. 


Terroir - Wine Culture



The concept of Terroir ties directly in with the notion that grapes from a carefully cultivated vine, allowed to go gently through the fermentation under the care of a conscious and caring winemaker, will express the specific character of the site on which they are grown.  Terroir encompasses this ‘character.’  It is the sum of various environmental characteristics that make a site unique for growing grapes, such as weather, soil, local flora, local fauna, distance from the sea, elevation, orientation etc.  Villaine draws distinction between terroir and climat given that climats encompass the human history and contribution to a site as opposed to natural physical and environmental characteristics alone.

In growing grapes and making wines we begin to notice characteristic patterns of distinction between various parts of our diverse vineyard.  Elevations at Halter Ranch range between 1500 and 1750 feet above sea level.  The vineyard is planted to both north and south facing slopes.  Soil types range between Monterey Alluvial (sand), Clay Loam, Calcareous Shale, Calodo, and one full hillside of deliciously dark red Volcanic remnant.  19 different grape varieties are planted to 81 individual vineyard blocks.  All these factors and more contribute to the specific character of each block, and ultimately the complexity of flavor and texture that make our wines so special.


Innovation in Block 50

Angled VSP to control sun exposure on ripening grapes


While it might be uncouth to use the term itself, given we are not in Burgundy, it is interesting to apply the concept of Climat to our historic property here at Halter Ranch.  The site now occupied by our vineyard was cleared of oaks and brush by the MacGillivray family during the mid twentieth century in order to plant barley and safflower.  The very first vines were planted in 1996 again by the MacGillivrays with 12×6 foot spacing in order to accommodate their normal sized tractors.  Since taking over the property in 2000 we have planted 255 additional acres of vines taking care throughout each step in the process to maintain an efficient, sustainable, and minimal impact approach to farming in the interest of producing the absolute best fruit our vineyard may provide.  We’ve painstakingly designed and redesigned structures that function in concert with the site from the restoration of historic buildings to our gravity flow winery facility and caves.  As the article points out it is human effort in tandem with Terroir and the miracle of grape vines that makes beautiful wine possible.


Pre-pruning on Block 5 Syrah

Pre-pruning on Block 5 Syrah


In a world saturated with artificial stimulus it is refreshing to read about efforts to recognize the historical significance of farming practices that work in symbiosis with nature to create a product humanity has been absolutely enamored with since the dawn of civilization.  Even more refreshing perhaps would be to stand up, go to your kitchen, crack open a bottle of Halter Ranch wine (if you have none, we can assist you: www.halterranch.com ), have a sip and consider all the history, culture, and natural phenomena it represents.

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