Terroir is a Myth

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Terroir is a Myth

Postby Covert » Sat Jul 08, 2006 9:19 am

There is a school of thought led by story tellers that recognizes life as a journey. Joseph Campbell called it the Hero’s Journey, because once a protagonist embarks, by definition, he is the hero of his story.

Great made up stories such as Star Wars, and real stories such as Titanic captivate people and stimulate them to go back again and again, as in the case of movies.

Campbell believed that great stories like these drew people in because they reflected the same universal patterns found in myths. They both represent elements that people intuitively need.

Campbell and psychologists such as Carl Jung attempted to classify and name these elements. They chose the expression “archetypes,” after Plato. Archetypes are symbolized by types of characters in stories and as elements of personality in the psyche. Regardless of symbols chosen, the real deal is however the machine code deep in the mind. The universal human pull is to understand these inner elements.

The real deal essence of the pull is clouded by all the attempts, which are mostly limited to working with symbols of the inner archetypes. People thus think that the symbols are the real deal. Campbell said “they eat the menu instead of the meal.”

The legend of the Holy Grail and the Fisher King is about a wounded man in a weakened land who can only find a cure in the Grail. This symbolizes everyman’s inner struggle to find the “cure” from only knowing fragments of his whole personality; in other words learning all the unconscious, hidden elements so that he becomes whole and complete.

This is the most basic aspect of the human condition. It is the stuff of nightmares and wars, but at the machine code level, it is as familiar and non-threatening as breathing.

My thesis is that wine best represents the whole enchilada. Great wine permits us to skip the myths, symbols and stories and get to the heart of the archetypes in the only way that we really can: to be with them, comfortably, even if we don’t know them. A great wine, like great art, permits us to intuit this; only great wine is less limiting because we are not distracted by having to look at something away from the depths of our souls. It’s all a big deal only if we don’t know that it is not a big deal. No bigger than breathing.

Enter Parker and the great terroir debate. Terroir is a myth, just like the Holy Grail; not because it is wrong, but because it is just a symbol of an inner mix. We are not as humans striving to get to the soil; we are striving to get to the soul, which is merely symbolized by terroir.

Green, herbaceous wines are more like the soil, and therefore the soul, than hot ripe wines, which are more like the sun - in mythology, the opposite of earth. It’s as simple as that.

Last weekend my wife and I drank a bottle of 1998 Chateau Faugeres St-Emilion. It was rich, ripe and concentrated, but not showing a lot of terroir. Robert Parker rated this wine outstanding. His kind of wine. My wife and I liked it, too, for what it is. A nice job.

Last night, we drank a bottle of 1998 Chateau Cantemerle Haut Medoc, or Margaux, depending on your definition of the parcel. It was medium bodied, at best, earthy and herbaceous. Mr. Parker rated it good, but not very good, precisely because of the elements described.

We bought only three bottles of the Cantemerle, after tasting it upon release at Zachy’s. Dale Williams was there that day and he liked it, too, as I remember. But it didn’t have the evolved beauty that it has now, so I only bought three bottles, even when it only cost $14 bottles a bottle, as I remember.

My wife enjoys soulful wine, like that Cantemerle, best of all. I took a stern chiding last night for not having bought a case. Sure, I will try now, even if it costs $25 or $30 a bottle. But the point of my post is providing my explanation of what the controversy about terroir is all about. Getting close to the soul is about the best thing you can do, if you feel you are doing it. Most people don’t relate to this as a function of green, herbaceous rainy Left Bank wine; but a few Frenchmen do, apparently: thus Mondovino. (Not Mondavi?...No! exactly, but wine is not exact; that’s why it can get close to the soul, if it’s green.)

Well, enough of this musing about inner archetypes. My wife just woke up and her first words will be, “Where are we hiking?” We’re at camp in the Adirondacks, the great symbol of healing, if you are into symbols. I’m trying to transcend symbols by drinking green wine, so I’m trying not to relate to the Adirondacks that way.

But it is hard to get away from all the mythological aspects here: the lakes (windows through which the underworld watches us humans); the mountains (the brass disks at the apexes, symbols of spiritual union). Every time my wife and I reach the tops, we simultaneously touch our toes to the brass disk.

I think we will attempt Big Slide, in the midst of the High Peaks. It’s like a mythological journey. You first have to get over the tops of the three magnificent Brothers before you can enter the final trail, first descending into dark, damp, thick green forest, then straight up rocks to the most magnificent bald and sunny peak, Big Slide (should one fall). Guide books strongly admonish those who are not experienced, in great shape and up to a grueling task should turn back at the summit of the Third Brother. Can we do it? I don’t know. But the best part is The Ausable Inn at the base. The bar inside might resemble that of Star Wars, but the overall ambience is vintage Adirondacks. Nothing in the world gets better than a cold Chardonnay at that bar after a hot and sweaty scramble up and down a high peak.
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Paul Savage » Sat Jul 08, 2006 10:53 pm

Covert,

I'm not sure what you're saying... :D

I don't taste a lot of young wine, that has recently been reviewed, for instance, so I don't know if I would disagree with Parker's preferences. I do know though, that he thinks terroir is a very necessary part of what goes into making a great wine. OTOH, in past decades especially, a grand name on a label was always accompanied by a price that reflected the name on the label, not necessarily the quality of wine in the bottle! Look at Echezeaux, Corton, or Charmes Chambertin from the '60s and '70s, or for that matter, Chateau Margaux, Lafite, or Mouton from those decades!

Another thing I have noticed is that terroir does not show particularly in young or youngish wines. In them, the character of the vintage is often in the forefront I think, and of course, the style of the winemaker.

So I'd just say, let's wait until wines are 20 years old or so, and then compare them and analyze them for terroir influence....? FWIW, I think the Burgundy rating system of vineyards is amazingly accurate, BUT... that influence of an elegant character hardly guarantees that the wine will be great, or even good! Many "lesser" wines from better vintages and producers will show as well as, or better than, more exalted vineyards from lesser years and lesser producers....

If wine were simple to categorize, we'd have nothing to talk about! :wink:

Just some of my rambling thoughts! ...Paul
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby James Roscoe » Sat Jul 08, 2006 11:03 pm

Paul Savage wrote:Covert,

I'm not sure what you're saying... :D


Paul, you are not alone. Does anyone really understand Covert? Hands please! Only Covert could bring together Joseph Cambell, Karl Jung, Robert Parker, and terroir. Well done. :P
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Howie Hart » Sun Jul 09, 2006 2:38 am

James Roscoe wrote:Paul, you are not alone. Does anyone really understand Covert? Hands please! Only Covert could bring together Joseph Cambell, Karl Jung, Robert Parker, and terroir. Well done. :P

LOL 8)
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Paul Savage » Sun Jul 09, 2006 2:48 am

James,

Well, I can certainly agree about the spiritual and physical healing that hiking can bring about! :wink: Even if you get exhausted in the process! I've never hiked in the Adirondacks (did I spell that right?), but I've been up to Mount Khatadin (Sp? again!) in Maine , where the Appalachian trial starts, and up Mount Washington, where there are crosses to mark where hikers have died on the Mountain....

And the Grand Canyon is a must, once in one's life. You have to make a reservation at Indian Gardens, half-way down, or at the campground at the bottom, I forget its name! You have to walk INTO the canyon, at least some way, to distance yourself from the rim and its traffic and tourists, to get a real feel for the "terroir" of the place!

Southern Utah too - Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches - these are more suitable for day hokes though - overniters require a lot of planning, as does the Grand Canyon for that matter! Late September is good for Arizona/Nevada! :D
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby David M. Bueker » Sun Jul 09, 2006 11:13 am

Don't forget the Canadian Rockies! That's where Laura and I normally go for our annual renewal.

And I think I sort of understand where Covert is going, but I don't agree. Terroir is not a myth. And even riper wines show terroir. They just show the terroir as it comes in a riper year. There is no rule as to when one must pick the grapes or under what seasonal weather conditions to display terroir.
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby James Roscoe » Sun Jul 09, 2006 2:31 pm

I'm beginning to think Covert is a myth wrapped in an enigma.

By the way I agree with everyone about the hiking. My hikes are usually limitted to the Blue Ridge in Shenandoah National Park. It's beautiful in its own right. I generally can't afford farther travel. I can say I have hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail though, as it winds through the park. I also hiked in Acadia National Park. That is another place that should not be missed. I really want to get out west. The Grand Canyon is a must as far as I'm concerned. For historical reasons, so is Yellowstone. I do want to hit the Utah parks and the California parks are also calling me. We'll see. Eight more years more or less until my youngest is out of college. I'll only be 55. Who knows where the roads will lead.
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Paul Savage » Sun Jul 09, 2006 3:32 pm

James,

All I can say is, don't put off what you should do today! Or this year.... :wink: Take a week off in late September or early October, when the weather is still warm in the Southwest, but not oppressive, and when school is back in session and all the tourists have gone home! Fly into Salt Lake City (for southern Utah destinations) or Phoenix (for the Grand Canyon), rent a car, etc. I got AAA travel guides for the areas, that listed the motels in some of the out-of-the way areas (necessary, because they are small, and few and far between in many cases, and you don't want to find a filled-up motel). Bring the kids! Introduce them to something very enjoyable and healthy! It's a great thing (hiking, etc.) to get "into"! ...Paul
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby James Roscoe » Sun Jul 09, 2006 3:48 pm

It's a great idea, but school is in session and my administrators have this funny idea that teachers belong in the classroom during the school year. Have you seen the price of airline tickets? ?On a teacher's salary, especially a private school, I'm lucky to afford the monthly mortgagfe. I don't want to complain. I gave up my legal practice to get into teaching and I've never looked back. Such is life. Priorities!
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Covert » Mon Jul 10, 2006 6:09 am

Hi Paul,

I was just making a point about the psychological drive to relate to terroir. Terroir certainly exists in an objective scientific sense, but the importance of it to people is a function of emotion.

To David's comment about terroir not being a myth: my point is that every objective reality, such as terroir, becomes a myth when it gains symbolic importance (i.e., psychological significance) evidenced by it being important. A myth is a good thing, not a bad thing; but thing it is, definitately. Terroir in wine is similar to personality in people. Everybody has a personality, it just takes others to define for themselves the nature of a particular personality; good, bad or otherwise. It is impossible for a wine not to demonstrate its terroir, no matter how jammy it is, for example: different terroirs will just demonstrate different jams. Just as it is silly to say that somebody does not have personality.

To argue about whether a wine shows terroir or not is a function of lazy intellects, in my opinion. I was just trying to make fun of the whole silly exercise.

I have climbed Mount Washington, too. The climb that we made over the Three Brothers reminded me of Washington. Absolutely magnificent views. Didn't make it to the top of Big Slide. We ran out of time, energy and water at the top of Bro 3. We decided to get up earlier next weekend, take more water and go for four. (By the way, there is tremendous mythical, symbolic significence to struggling with 3 and then attempting, but not making, four - but I will leave that to another time.) But we did very much enjoy the cold glass of Chardonnay at the Ausable Inn.

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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby James Roscoe » Mon Jul 10, 2006 8:33 am

Covert,
Your second post really somes up my feeling about the whole terroir debate, but you put it so much more elegantly than I ever could, and philosophicaly. So my only choice is to mock the person who writes it. I suppose it's the sign of a second rate mind. In any event, I agree, how can you ignore terroir, and why would you want to argue about it? It seems pointless. You do the philosophy and I'll do the mocking. :wink:
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby David M. Bueker » Mon Jul 10, 2006 8:57 am

Covert wrote:To David's comment about terroir not being a myth: my point is that every objective reality, such as terroir, becomes a myth when it gains symbolic importance (i.e., psychological significance) evidenced by it being important. A myth is a good thing, not a bad thing; but thing it is, definitately. Terroir in wine is similar to personality in people. Everybody has a personality, it just takes others to define for themselves the nature of a particular personality; good, bad or otherwise. It is impossible for a wine not to demonstrate its terroir, no matter how jammy it is, for example: different terroirs will just demonstrate different jams. Just as it is silly to say that somebody does not have personality.


I can agree with that, but something else in your original post belies this explanation. You write of the Cantemerle being soulful, specifically because of its earthy and herbaceous nature. Well again, a wine with abundant fruit can be just as soulful, if that is the soul of the site it was grown on. Cantemerle is not a great chateau because it is not a great site (not to mention some yield issues...). They make nice to very good wine depending on the year. I happen to enjoy both the 2000 and 2001 (two dramatically different vitnages) from this chateau, but while the 2000 is riper and fruitier, it shows no less the Cantemerle soil, no less soul. The same can be said about the 2000 and 2001 Leoville Barton, or the 2003 and 2004 Loring Rancho Ontiveros Pinot Noir.
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Covert » Mon Jul 10, 2006 12:38 pm

David,

One of Jung’s great concepts involved “antiodramata,” or something damned close to that word. Any idea communicated generates its opposite. I can’t argue with what you said; especially because terroir, technically, is as much about sun and sky as it is about earth. But I think the earth plays a more fundamental role in the idea of terroir, because it relates to place.

Most definitions and ideas about soul are more earthly than sunlit. Jung said that the “soul is a content that belongs partly to the subject and partly to the world of spirits, i.e., the unconscious (underground). Hence the soul has an earthly as well as a ghostly quality.” And many primitive notions of soul are vegetative in nature.

I just think that terroir is unconsciously more associated with wines like Cantemerle, when they are soft, earthy and herbaceous (feminine), compared to powerful, blockbuster fruit bombs, which associate more to the masculine sun. I’m not right, it’s just my consideration.

By the way, I found a case of the '98 Cantemerle. It has only gone up $9 a bottle since 2001. I may try the 2000 this weekend for comparison.

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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Covert » Mon Jul 10, 2006 6:23 pm

David,

Probably neither you nor anybody else was curious about it; however it bothered me that I could not find that word about opposites that I was looking for. It clicked into my head when I was no longer thinking about it. It's "enantiodrama." No wonder I couldn't pull it up in Google, starting with "antio."

From a book review by Bobby Matherne:

"There is a connection of opposites that drives one irrepressibly into the other. Jung called the process by which this happens enantiodrama.
'Beware the Enantiodrome, my friend,' and 'Be aware of its working in your life,' would be good advice to all. Why is it so easy for the Enantiodrome to hide from us? It hides in the shadows; in Jung's terms, it is the Shadow, that discounted and pushed away part of ourselves that sneaks back when we're not looking."

Once you become comfortable with this principle, nobody can irritate you by taking an opposite position to something you think or say. Like me, one may begin to say things just to solicit opposite thoughts so that he can better understand his own mind. The opposites are already in there.

For anybody who has trouble getting where I am coming from, this is part of my shtick.

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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Paulo in Philly » Mon Jul 10, 2006 8:05 pm

Covert wrote:
For anybody who has trouble getting where I am coming from, this is part of my shtick.

Covert


I get you, Covert. I relate it to singing because that is my background and my profession. It is the same difference between a 19th Century Art Song and an opera aria. This is the same struggle between those who enjoy Art Song and those who find it boring. You can sing loud all the time or you can sing with more subtlety, direction, and artistry. It is no wonder that I prefer Old world wines made in that soulful tradition. I think, too, it has to do with people's ability to be patient and be more reflective in nature. The world we live in usually does not reward those of us who are reflective in nature. Everything is snappy and done in two seconds; we learn to do things in "autobahn" mode. I'd rather smell the flowers and appreciate every detail than be hammered with an overwhelming experience on any level, in any art, with any wine.

I enjoyed your post.
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Steve Edmunds » Mon Jul 10, 2006 8:10 pm

One typically defines oneself, to some extent, by what one feels one is not. The one does not exist without the other (the Other). This is a seed that begs to be planted, here, in the land of us vs. them.
I've enjoyed this thread. :)
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Covert » Tue Jul 11, 2006 6:50 am

James,

I didn’t take anything you said as mocking. Poking fun is not mocking. It’s fun.

I used to live in Rockville, MD and spent a lot of time in D.C. I was also very fond of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but rode my chopper over them instead of hiking. I had built a bright red hard-tail Pan Head from scratch with a raked and very long bright chrome front end, which provided the only flex the bike had, besides the fat back tire. Sledding it over the Blue Ridge Mountains was a pleasure second-only-to, or maybe even greater than, wine.

I worked as a mechanic for a Harley dealership by day and a chopper shop called Satan’s Cycle Salvage by night - and drank beer rather than wine. It was during that netherworld sojourn that my old lady cajoled me into accompanying her to a fine French Restaurant on Rockville Pike. I tasted haut cuisine and fine wine in combination for the first time and it flipped a switch.

If you ever get to the Adirondacks, I would suggest scaling the summits of the Three Brothers and bringing a camera. My wife and I have hiked all over the Park, but were astounded anew by the beauty of that particular trail. Call ahead and you can even get a room at the rustic Ausable Inn, and they welcome BYOB (which is necessary).

The first map of the Park, which is larger than the State of Connecticut, was demarcated by a blue line. Ever since, those who know the park refer to the Spirit "Inside the Blue Line." A unique terroir indeed. Once you visit, you will carry the spirit with you. It blends nicely in the soul with the ghost of the Blue Ridge.

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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Dave Erickson » Tue Jul 11, 2006 10:19 am

Reading these posts has made me realize that I'm actually a holistic kinda guy. I don't see earth and climate as opposites on a continuum. "Terroir" to me (and believe me, I'm not saying anything new or profound here...) is everything connected to the production of wine that does not involve the hand of man. Of course, I could be misreading Covert's intentions entirely...

Anyway, it's sorta embarrassing to think of myself as "holistic."

Regarding enantiodrama: Oh, yes. My favorite example is the expression "I have nothing to prove," which almost always means the opposite.
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Mark S » Tue Jul 11, 2006 10:42 am

Covert wrote:The first map of the Park, which is larger than the State of Connecticut, was demarcated by a blue line. Ever since, those who know the park refer to the Spirit "Inside the Blue Line." A unique terroir indeed. Once you visit, you will carry the spirit with you. It blends nicely in the soul with the ghost of the Blue Ridge.



And for those who have found this 'soul' of the mountains, I feel offended when the "Park" is continually chopped up and parceled out to the highest bidder, i.e., those with means. Despite the size and grandeur of the Adirondacks, it is a bit troubling to see development carve the place up.

Although i don't necessarily share your take on life, I enjoy your ramblings. It reminds me of being in a physician or dentist office and finding that article in a magazine you pick up out of interest and need to carry with you into the examination room.
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby James Roscoe » Tue Jul 11, 2006 11:11 am

Mark S wrote:
Covert wrote:The first map of the Park, which is larger than the State of Connecticut, was demarcated by a blue line. Ever since, those who know the park refer to the Spirit "Inside the Blue Line." A unique terroir indeed. Once you visit, you will carry the spirit with you. It blends nicely in the soul with the ghost of the Blue Ridge.



And for those who have found this 'soul' of the mountains, I feel offended when the "Park" is continually chopped up and parceled out to the highest bidder, i.e., those with means. Despite the size and grandeur of the Adirondacks, it is a bit troubling to see development carve the place up.

Although i don't necessarily share your take on life, I enjoy your ramblings. It reminds me of being in a physician or dentist office and finding that article in a magazine you pick up out of interest and need to carry with you into the examination room.


Mark,
Well said. Life would be boring if we all came at it from the same angle. I don't always agree with Coverts take on life either, but he writes so well. And this thread really caught my attention. I would love to hike the Adirondacks. My brother lived in Lake Placid for a few years and I never got a chance to visit. I need to do the Finger Lakes first. What's the old saying about time?
Cheers!
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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby Covert » Tue Jul 11, 2006 2:12 pm

Mark,

What the exploding population and easy money are doing to the Adirondack Park is criminal, in my mind. The park is getting strangled fast, but it is big enough to hold a few spots virgin until I die. That’s why I am here. Apre moi le deluge.

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Re: Terroir is a Myth

Postby James Roscoe » Tue Jul 11, 2006 2:44 pm

Covert wrote:Apre moi le deluge.


Were you Louis XIV in another life? :twisted:
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