Terroir can be Terrifying

The Bordeaux region of France, noted for its beauty, is home to a wide variety of wine production. Producing the most wine of any region in France, Bordeaux boasts some of the most fanatical devotees of the concept called Terroir. Terroir for the uninitiated is when a wine producer takes the environment of her vineyard into consideration as a factor in the quality and flavour of her wines. The concept is applicable in the production of food and many top quality restaurants take pride in and promote the source of the raw materials that go into their award winning dishes.

In the case of Bordeaux you start with the soil, which is a mix of gravel, sandy stone and clay. The best vineyards are located on well-drained gravel soils along the Gironde river. The most fanatical vintners in Bordeaux will produce unblended vintages from specific sites on their vineyard. The top of the hill, the north facing vineyard, the south facing vineyard, the steep hillside and so on. Each of these areas will have different amounts of sun and different drainage and often slightly different soil types which will yield different flavours. That knowledge coupled with the judicious choice of the grape varietal will yield wine of consistently superior quality.

Does it make you a wine snob if you take ‘Terroir’ too far? Once upon a time I was perusing the wine choices in the humidor at the back of the Newfoundland Liquor Commission in Stavengar NL and was astounded to see wine priced at $4900.00 CND which translates to roughly $4000.00 USD.

I have to confess to some stereotyping of Newfoundland which is considered to be a have-not province in relation to Canada as a whole. I would have expected prices like these in Toronto which is the most populous city, playing host to multitude of towering skyscrapers on Bay Street and is the center of business and finance in Canada.

But if I thought $4900.00 CND was pricey, I did have some options because there was a bottle lying beside the first one for $4300.00 and if that price would choke a crow, I could have some wine for $1800.00 or $900.00 or $300.00 or even a measly $180.00.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. This store had wine at every price point. I am writing specifically about a special reserve section in the back.

Truth be told, I am generally a ‘show me your drinkable ten dollar wine’ kind of a guy. Prices of $40 and $50 a bottle frighten me. When I lived in Italy, I took advantage of the neighbourhood wine stores. These stores have only a few types of bottled wine. Mostly they dispense wine from a tank. When the wine is ready it is delivered by a flatbed truck. A truck loaded with wooden barrels of wine strapped to the deck.

A hose is run from a barrel on the truck into a tank in the back of the store. A man sits up on the truck with a hand pump and pumps the wine into the store. If you are walking by, you have to mind your step as you pass over the hose. When the new wine is in, you go around your neighbourhood sampling wine. When you find the store that has the wine you like, you grab whatever clean empty container you have on hand. A coke bottle will do, you take it and go and get your table wine. Tasty and inexpensive.

Fred Franzia agrees with me, with forty thousand acres under cultivation and crushing three hundred and fifty thousand tons of grapes a year his company The Bronco Winery is the fourth largest in the US of A. Franzia is famous for selling wine under the name of the Charles F. Shaw winery at a very reasonable $1.99. This particular wine is sold exclusively at Trader Joes and became affectionately know as Two Buck Chuck’ by its devotees and ‘Two Buck Upchuck’ by its detractors. If anybody decries Two Buck Chuck as plonk consider this.

At the 28th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition, a $1.99 bottle of California Wine, the 2002 Charles Shaw Shiraz, aka ‘Two Buck Chuck’ beat out 2,300 wines to win a prestigious double gold medal.

Bronco went on to sell 800 million bottles of Two Buck Chuck before the price was raised due to increased costs associated with bottling and transportation. Mr. Franzia believes that no wine should cost more than ten bucks a bottle. A marked contrast to the $4000.00 USD bottle of wine found at the Newfoundland Liquor Commission in Stavengar Newfoundland.

Stavengar NL a suburb of Newfoundland’s capitol St. John’s lies directly under the flight path between Europe and North America. Nearby Gander, NL used to be the refuelling spot for all of the Air traffic between Europe and North America.

The Chief Sommelier of the Newfoundland Liquor Commission has taken the trouble to locate specialty vintages of wine from different regions of France. Vintages totalling as few as 100 bottles each are imported to Newfoundland. The wine is stored at the NLLC in Stavengar only a stones throw from the Airport. It is only a matter of time before the Literati and Glitterati of North America and Europe go online looking for their special wine. Surprise surprise. It seems like a stunt the Joker would pull. Ha Ha Ha. (Evil laugh)

To get your wine you make a quick stop at the St. John’s airport. No trouble if you have access to a private jet. You can imagine a conversation like this. “Honey, while we are on the way to Cannes for the festival, we have to stop in St. John’s to pick up my special wine.” For the rest of us it’s more like: “Honey would you pick up a bottle on your way home from work”