Grape Juice is natural, wine is not. The smell and taste of a good wine is something God did not make. He gave us the materials to make it, but it is we who must do it, and it is an art. It is the fruit of the union of man and soil. The man must have the knowledge of how to produce wine from grapes, and for that he must above all know and love his soil. He must submit himself to his soil like a musician to a score. And all this is to reach his goal, which is to extract the very soul of the land from its soil. When you drink a glass of good wine you drink the soul of the land.–Alain Querre, Chateau Monbousquet, St. -Emilion from The Man of the Vines by Frederick Turner in Sacred Trusts: Essays on Stewardship and Responsibility edited by Michael Katakis. 1993.
I make a living as an Ecologist, working mostly in the millions of acres of public forest lands of northern Michigan. A central focus of much of my professional career has been man’s relationship to land, both positive and negative. I have spent a lot of time thinking and talking about what it means to live well in a place, the benefits and consequences of how we organize our lives within cities and in rural and cultivated landscapes, and how we treat wild things and wild land. What does growing apples and making and selling cider have to do with living well in a place?
I read the quote above by Alain Querre many years ago. I took it as a beautiful and thorough explanation of terroir. Terroir is simply defined as the taste of place. More specifically, it is the idea that the expression of the character of a food or beverage can be the result of its unique environmental context (i.e. climate and soil), growth habit, and farming or cultivation practices. The concept comes from wine but has been expanded to include all sorts of food stuffs (see American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen). Terrior adds distinction and appeal to a drink or food by creating uniqueness and also perhaps associating it with a cherished place.
I am not sure if terroir is anything more than very effective French marketing, but I want to believe in the concept. I want to believe that soil, climate, and farming practices impact the character of apples, juice, and cider. I want to believe that it matters to some cider makers and apple growers, and I want to believe that I can find it and smell it and taste it in their ciders. Belief or not, I am certain we should reward makers and growers who demonstrate a strong long-term connection and commitment to land and to a place, who consider what the land can give and not give, and who seek to make beverages that are a reflection of this relationship. This means growing and/or sourcing local apples, especially those which are solely for cider. It may also mean cool, long, and/or wild ferments, often in barrels. It means attention to blending and consideration of variation in fruit and juice characteristics between years. And it means delaying packaging and sales because the tannins need time to soften or because a secondary bottle fermentation (méthode champenoise) can not be rushed. These things should matter. They should matter to how cider tastes and they do matter to how land is managed and treated.
Cideries I have admired directly or from afar which seem to reflect these values include Somerset Cider Brandy and Burrow Hill Cider and Wilken’s Cider Farm both of Somerset, and Oliver’s Cider and Perry of Herefordshire; and in the States Bellwether Hard Cider, Dragon’s Head Cider, Eden Specialty Ciders, Eve’s Cidery, E.Z. Orchards, Farnum Hill Ciders, Foggy Ridge Ciders, Tandem Ciders, and West County Cider . Look for my tasting notes on many of these wonderful ciders in the near future.