(This is part 1 of our series on the “terroir” of Missouri’s wine regions. Look for part 2 coming soon.)
Terroir is a scary looking word. Yet, take a closer look. Terroir is actually a warm, fuzzy word. Just consider its general translation: a sense of place. In culinary terms, terroir describes an area’s geography, climate and social features, especially those associated with viticulture.
Perhaps James E. Wilson defined terroir best in his 1998 book of the same name:
The true concept (terroir) is not easily grasped but includes physical elements of the measurable ecosystem. There is an additional dimension — the spiritual aspect that recognizes the joys, the heartbreaks, the pride, the sweat and the frustration of its history.
From these elements, weather, soil and regional agriculture, is where you’ll find the heart of terroir, especially for vintners. Yet, “sense of place” transcends mere geography. Terroir embraces cultural and historical elements of an area that contributes to both its wine and food production. Call it regional uniqueness, ripe for promotional picking and present in locations throughout Missouri’s wine regions.
For example, consider Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.
Missouri University sociology professor Elizabeth Barham has established the Missouri Regional Cuisines Project, whose goal is to promote and educate consumers about the concept of Missouri terroir. The program also encourages and helps Missouri winemakers, farmers and chefs develop a regional awareness of their products. The Ste. Genevieve region was selected as the program’s pilot area to launch the regional cuisines project because of its flourishing wine industry.
Located in the Mississippi River Hills, Ste. Genevieve’s wineries offer the perfect combination defining terroir. First, look at its location. Ste. Genevieve is farther south than Missouri’s older wine districts, Augusta and Hermann. As a result, its climate stays a little warmer, a factor that affects the amount of natural sugars present in the grapes. Its soil is also rocky, providing a difference in drainage to its vines, which again can affect wine flavor and finish.
These two elements alone are enough to create excitement among wine makers. So it’s no surprise wine was chosen as the signature product of the Ste. Genevieve region that has led the push to establish its own designated appellation. Historically Ste. Genevieve was French, and it still practices its French traditions. As a result, its wine and food also process a slight French accent.
Ste. Genevieve’s wine culture, food and area history – its terroir – contributes substantially to the region. Terroir connects both lifestyle and economy in this southeast Missouri region, a connection that fosters further development of the terroir tradition where wine and food products are marketed as local specialties while promoting the area as an agri-tourist destination.
Today Ste. Genevieve is poised as a leader in the Missouri terroir movement. Its success drives the Regional Cuisine Project forward to continue expansion of the program; working toward future federal and state designations of terroir – label of origins and wine appellations.
“Each of Missouri’s wine regions offers a unique mix that in itself defines terroir,” said Jim Anderson, Executive Director of Missouri’s Wine and Grape Board. “What better way to explain terroir than through our wine. After all, both wine and food are products of an area’s soil and climate and flavored with the history and culture where it’s produced.”
Subtle nuances found in indigenous ingredients and flavors, the essence of terroir is what we celebrate. Viva la difference!
Next: Part 2 is coming soon!