Researching Dirt: A PDXSX intern’s first big project on the job


Image Source: Crumbled Rock Wines

My mission, should I choose to accept it, (and of course I am) is to research “terroir.”

Okay, what exactly is terroir? Well, it depends on who you ask, which is why my magazine is devoting its fall issue to talking about terroir.

In general, terroir is defined as “place.” Place represents the soil composition, weather patterns, water drainage, sun exposure, and sometimes elevation of a particular plot of land where wine grapes are planted. Some people also include the culture and the human presence in the area to the list of characteristics that define terroir.

As you can probably tell, there are lots of variations on this definition and it is a hotly debated topic in the wine world. The traditionalists claim that wines can taste like the region where the grapes came from. Others argue that even if those subtleties exist, the vast majority of wine drinkers aren’t going to be able to tell, so why fuss about it.

My assignment is two-fold. First, I am going to be gathering definitions of “place” to be scattered throughout the magazine. My goal is to get an mélange of perspectives from wine people and “non-wine” people. Second, I am going to be calling a long list of wine growers and makers, and asking them a set of questions about “terroir,” polling-style.

So, before I got too far down the rabbit hole, I wanted to ask my fellow super-intelligent, “kick-ass” (Josh’s word, not mine) PDXSXers: have you guys heard any cool definitions of the notion of “place”?

Also, I’ve never done a poll before, so do you guys have any tips for running a really successful, relevant poll? Do you guys have any other tips or tricks for me?

¡Salud from San Francisco!

~Anneka Miller

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7 Responses to Researching Dirt: A PDXSX intern’s first big project on the job

  1. I was once told during wine tasting, “No one can tell you what you are or are not tasting- every person has a palate of their own. So if you’re tasting berries and she’s tasting black licorice…well, you’re both right! ” With that said, it’s interesting that traditionalists would claim that the grapes taste like where they came from- when really, I view it as some flavors may be characteristic to that region. In my opinion, a place is defined by everything in it; whether it be a physical area or something felt by the heart.
    In relation to running a poll, you could use something like Survey Monkey, Qualtrics, or simply create one on your blog (through the widget menu) and direct people to it using Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.

    It sounds like you’re having a blast in SF! Miss you here in Portland and best of luck! 🙂

  2. pdxsx says:

    Well done, Anneka. Have a great time polling your growers and enjoy the San Fran weather!


  3. codynewton says:

    I don’t know much about wine myself. My girlfriend’s parents are really in to it and they drag us along on wine tasting tours almost every time we visit them. Which is totally cool with me. I remember the first time I went wine tasting with them they were talking about terroir and things of that nature. I was completely clueless, but kept my mouth shut. I waited until we were back home then I looked it up on the internet.

    I’m not exactly sure how I would define place. When it comes to something like terroir, I’d would say the physical location is very important in the definition. I mean the views and opinions of the locals can be a huge defining point of a place, but when it come to grapes, their views and opinions aren’t going to have much impact.

    Good luck!

  4. Hi Anneka!
    I really don’t know much about wine either but I find it interesting that terroir is the most important deciding factor for some but not to others. An old economics professor of mine once told me that most wine drinkers don’t know the difference between a fine wine (grown on fine terroir) and one that is simply expensive. Price plays a large role in what people think is good or not.
    As for the place definition, are you looking for a definition centered around wine or in general? I think the most interesting concept of place would come from Plato’s allegory of the cave. Everyone’s sense of place and taste is grounded in their life experiences. One person’s reality is entirely different than anthers. So does the slope of the hill the grapes grow on really matter if the wine is going to taste different to everyone?
    Good luck!

  5. Wow! Thanks for the great responses guys. The question of place is very complicated, indeed. Shannon, you are so right. Everyone’s palate is grounded in their own experience. I have a really hard time drinking California wines and “understanding” them because I grew up in Oregon and that’s what my palate was trained on. Cody, I totally agree. Location, Location, Location… I’m starting to wonder, from the economics point of view, what the “price of place” might mean here. I think that certain regions definitely carry cache that’s related to their officially designated “terroir” labels, like AVA’s (American Viticulture Areas).

    Marcie, who ever you were tasting with was totally right! Everyone’s taste buds are different. That’s why there are so many fantastic wines in the world that some people adore and others think are disgusting. There’s a little something for everyone. I miss you guys too. Really get out there and do PDX right for me!

    Thanks all!

  6. rkaapu says:

    Well for starters I am jealous of this fabulous project you get to work on. Both my parents consider themselves wine connoisseurs and have a wine cellar to boast about but sometimes I wonder about their true knowledge of the matter. If you were to ask me, I would say the difference in wines is heavily based on weather and soil composition. How happy are the grapes? Like people, I think plants respond to surroundings. Are the soil beds comfy, or is it hard and grainy? Is there lots of sunshine to absorb, or are the grapes cold and grumpy? Are they well cared for? I think a place is a vague term that people use to describe a complex idea. One “place” is filled with a variety of attributes, too many to count, that change and evolve with time. As for the polling, show an interest, be curious about how people would describe their “place” and I think you will be fine. Thank you for sharing and good luck with your internship!

  7. asharonson says:

    It sounds like you have learned a lot at your internship so far. I like how you took a different angle on this blog post and told us about what you have learned, not how you learned it. It’s very refreshing! Sounds like you are learning about something fun and interesting. I can’t wait to hear more about what you are learning!

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