On the impact of rootstocks, clones and other stuffs on expressing 'Terroir'

6+1 questions (left open for the readers... feel free to comment, please):

  1. Due to Phylloxera, nowadays the majority of vines are planted on rootstocks instead of being on Pie Franco. Pie Franco gives usually lower yields, therefore more concentrated wines, perceived as of higher quality. Of course you can manually limit yields also on vines planted on rootstocks. Is there any particular recognisable feature that Pie Franco gives to the wine (with respect to rootstock-based wines)? Does it helps to bring out Terroir? 
  2. On the market there are lots of different rootstocks (selected for coping with different climates, soils compositions etc.). What's the impact (if any) of the rootstock choice on expressing the particular features of a particular terroir? Does a Chablis remain a Chablis regardless the rootstocks adopted?   
  3. For each single grape there are several clones (selected for resistance to diseases, yield, etc.). What's the impact (if any) of clone selection in expressing the particular features of a particular terroir? Does a Le Chambertin remain a Le Chambertin, regardless of the clone? (Well this example it's maybe a bit tricky as pinot noir has very high tendency to clone mutations -- so probably this already answers the question? Really don't know).
  4. Viruses attack vineyards and can be devastating or just lowering yields. This is why clonal selection aims to provide "disease-free" material. However, many producers state that "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger"...in other words some viruses can yes reducing yield but this results in deeper and more complex wines. For some producers, viruses may help to express better the Terroir. How much this is true accordingly to your experience?
  5. Regarding the expression of Terroir, the performance (quality not quantity) of the vineyard and the preservation of Biodiversity: is it better propagating vines by massal selection or by clonal selection? The answer for the strong believer of Terroir concept is usually the former: Massal selection. What is your opinion or your personal experience? 
  6. Are local yeasts and bacteria to make "Terroir"? This was suggested by Nicholas Bokulich studies at UC-Davis (here)
  7. Finally, does 'Terroir' exist or it's just a marketing chimera (a pedigree or blazon necessary to address the right percentage of deep-pocketed winelovers)? 


  1. I'm not sure that I qualify as an "expert" on the subject of terroir; I am rather more of an obsessive brooder on the subject. My answers are largely based on things that I've read, heard, but likely never directly observed. Oh well, here you go:
    First off, it's important not to completely reify the notion of "terroir." While there is no question that terroir is a real phenomenon, it is still somewhat of a shape-shifter; it is not necessarily as concrete as a piece of quartz that you can point at. There is a certain element of subjectivity and human observation that grants it its ontological status. One way to think of terroir is a sense of "thereness." To the extent that one practice or one change in a set of variables enhances a sense of "thereness," or the uniqueness of the site, it can be said to serve in the service of terroir. But to try to answer your questions.
    1) It has been reported the pied franc vines are more expressive of terroir. In almost every instance, pied franc vines, which is to say vinifera are more vigorous than the those grafted on rootstock, and in virtually every instance, significantly older. All things being equal, more vigorous vines have a more aggressive rootsystem, which is to say they explore deeper and wider than less vigorous vines. The age of the vine will also allow the vine to establish deeper roots. By drawing water from a larger soil volume, it is intuitively obvious that there will a) be a greater sense of homeostasis in the plant (one possible definition of a superior terroir), and b) a greater impression or fingerprint of the unique qualities of the site.
    2) Obviously, the choice of rootstock will be significant in the expression of terroir. I've written that terroir is really just a form of information, and the job of a skillful vigneron is to optimize the intensity of the signal, whilst minimizing the amount of noise. A rootstock that somehow is less ideal for the optimization of the homeostasis of the vine creates a potential distortion, i.e. it grows too vegetatively (bad), not vigorous enough (bad). You really need a Goldilocks rootstock, one that has just the right amt. of vigor under the circs. Again, if you're growing grapes on chalky soil, a rootstock that is not lime-tolerant will give you a distortion. For a terroirist grower, all viticultural choices must lend themselves to invisibility, i.e. if they're doing their job you don't notice them.
    3) Again, the job of "clones" is like an ensemble cast in a theatrical production or a movie. Each should support the other, and not necessarily draw undue attention to themselves. While some clones are "superior" in a sense, a great cru can only express itself if there is a reasoned mix of a fairly large number of different clones. There is a certain harmony and complexity achieved that can only exist if there is significant variation in genetic material. This can only be achieved by the careful observation of the vineyardist, and largely through selection massale, ideally the replacement of a vine one by one. If a large part of a vineyard is replaced in a single go, there is an excellent chance that the qualities that the vineyardist observed previously will be tangibly altered, usually not for the better.
    4) The blind reliance on 100% virus-free vines is a mistake. In my own experience working with a number of different varieties, I've observed that the presence of a small degree of benign virus generally is beneficial, i.e. yields are slightly restricted without adversely affecting ripening characteristics.
    5) Massal selection, absolutely no question.
    6) Local flora is definitely a part of the equation, but would argue just a part, not the whole explanation, certainly.
    7) Terroir truly exists, but it (like God) is often heavily marketed.

  2. Thanks for the extensive answers...love no.7 :-) Cheers

  3. hmmm, can't stay out on that ;)
    The very basic factor is the definition of The Terroir. You will hardly find some definition where at least 40% of "the involved ones" would agree :). For me, terroir should be mentioned only when it's strong, if you can see huge effect of the place on the wine. If you are, always and with every vintage, able to see "something different, something unique", something that "neighbours" don't have. It means, any talk about terroir is useless for +80% of the worldwide vineyards.

    And you questions are very interesting ones.
    (First of all, I should introduce myself. I’m terroirist. I have all my vineyards on the very old (~700 million years) stone (granodiorite, solid rock). For centuries the place was famous as a grand terroir for the red wines. And the reasons were 2: 1. This terroir is strong, very strong (It’s hard to mask it even with a massive use of the technology. It’s always there. And it’s always different than anything else around.) 2. It’s not just strong, strong and good. Because the result of the strong terroir may be also strong and bad (but I think it’s just a temporary situation. You just have to find variety and/or technique that would be great with that). And in the same time I do a lot of experiments with the rootstock and ungrafted vines (unfortunately you have to wait +10 years to see at least some first results).

    Back to your questions:
    1. There are many ways how to reduce yields so I would leave this factor as an unimportant one. With ungrafted vines I do feel 2 things, they are healthier (and let’s ignore first years, I’m talking about older vines. Grafted ones are more prone to “sudden death” than ungrafted) and the wines are more complex, more detailed in the structure (that’s really a feeling, it’s a very hard to have some statistic data to prove this. But I will have some.)
    2. The effect of the rootstock is a sort of secondary effect. It doesn’t impact directly the taste of the grape. It affects how the vine is working (give some push here or limit the plant there) and that’s why the final grape is different. In the same time the rootstock is 1 additional complication in already complicated equitation, Place + variety (+rootstock) = The Grape. Anyway, if the terroir is strong than it’s not a question of grafted or ungrafted vines. The talent is there but the results can be different. But it would be different with different winemaker too.
    3. The answer is the very same like Nr. 2. The only exception is that almost any rootstock will somehow work with the good clone (somehow should be in bold). But if you have a stupid clone than there’s no way how to get The Grape.
    4. I can undersign the whole answer you have from Randall Grahm. Ein volk-ein reich-ein fuhrer is a higway to hell
    5. Massal…but you need a melting pot not just a few winners scattered around the whole vineyard
    6. Yes, yes and yes. The affect the way how the vine works. The very same vine on a dessert would give completely different grapes than the vine in the bush (on the very same type of soil). But working ecosystem is not changing the major characteristics. It’s “just” fine tuning the results (many many reasons for that, simple to complex ones)
    7. Already answered in the preface :)


    1. Thank you for your detailed answers, Jiri. It's very enriching to have the direct opinion from vignerons. It's also interesting your are bringing us the experience from Moravia, a region that should be definitely receive more attention from the international consumer! :-)



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