In vino veritas, part XXVII: Focus on terroir

There are many aspects of viticulture that distinguish two bottles of wine from one another. Laypeople will focus on the grape varietal, the vintage and the country of origin (including that region’s established growing practices) as the three primary factors. They seldom direct their attention to the combination of specific geography and geology as well as the resultant microclimates that help bestow each region’s soil with unique properties ultimately expressed in the grapes. The word that best describes this topographical consideration is terroir, and it makes for a good talking point with patrons.

Many people won’t be familiar or have even heard of the word, so it’s up to your waitstaff to educate guests (if prompted) in as simple a manner as possible. Who doesn’t like to learn something new after all? ,

Terroir will flesh out a bottle’s story in an entertaining way and thereby enrich the overall dining experience. And that’s what we are actually talking about here. Knowing one or two facts about each wine’s unique backstory will give servers one more angle to not only enhance liquor sales, but also to deepen the rapport with patrons.

For instance, suppose a guest is undecided between two bottles of red — the first is an outstanding, reasonably expensive Californian pinot noir, and the second is the cheapest one on the menu. Obviously, you should push for the upsell for monetary gain and, more importantly, because you know this customer will enjoy the former selection. The question is, how do you go about convincing this patron to dish out the extra cash?

The most apparent route is to explain the benefits of choosing the Californian pinot through a narrative. A brief description like this might touch on the unique flavor of this particular varietal, the vintage (if it is noteworthy), perhaps a couple specific aspects of the winemaker’s growing practices and the wine’s terroir. To this end, you might describe how the vineyard is located along the leeward slope of a sierra, which makes the microclimate just a touch drier and therein better concentrates the sugars in the grapes.

Discussions of terroir can incorporate proximity to mountain ranges like this along with closeness to rivers, headwaters, valleys, dormant or extinct volcanoes, mineral deposits, old-growth forests or strong ocean currents. Terroir is a blanket term for nearly everything that has or will affect the soil in which the grape roots will feed.

It isn’t vital that your team know every characteristic of a bottle’s terroir, but one or two interesting or exceptional aspects will go a long way towards enriching the stories used to sell more wine and boost the positive sentiments that consumers have for your restaurants.