Why South Africa and similar new world producers can not use the word Terroir

The first time I heard a winemaker refer to terroir I confusingly wondered what his terrier had to do with the wine. A few months later I was slinging the word into every wine talk.  “Look at me I can speak La French.”

Terroir can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place”, according to Wikipedia. When you associate it with wine it refers to everything from a specific place that influence the wine’s character. The wine taste a certain way because it comes from a specific location. The climate, soil, topography and even the influenced of humans, all from one place, contribute to the terroir.

In architecture people refer to vernacular architecture. The house looks a certain way due to available building materials from that specific area. Terroir for me is the vernacular architecture of a wine. It smells and tastes of the place it comes from.

In South Africa we now find the word terroir used everywhere to connect the wine with a specific place, but the reality is that we can not use the word in our context of wine making.

How can we call our wines terroir driven if we store it in oak barrels, made from trees in a forest, situated on the other side of the world? I would love to see some local wineries experimenting with indigenous wood and truly make an African wine. Obviously results might be horrendous at first, but it took the French hundreds of years to find their terroir, so maybe we should start finding ours.

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