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Terroir Is Not a Dirty Word

Very small wineries, like Ophir, and very large wineries, not like Ophir, can make very good wines. But I believe only relatively small wineries can make "interesting" wines, if by "interesting" we mean for now, wines that reflect the character of the place where the grapes are grown and the wine is made, and also where most of the wine is consumed. This last bit, which includes the consumer in the concept of terroir, expands the concept by giving terroir a cultural dimension beyond the vague and somewhat sketchy notion that it's desirable to taste the primordial dirt once you've popped the cork or twisted the bottle's screw-capped neck.

It's no secret the wine trade has eMBArked on a path away from its grounding in the agriculture and social culture of where it's made, and wine has become an international commodity. It seems impossible now, as it once was, that most of the world's wine is consumed within 20 miles or a dozen kilometers of where it was produced. The wine media is full of this debate -- there's no need to recapitulate it here except to commend for our readers the movie Mondo Vino.

It's no accident that the wines produced anywhere in the world match up with the food that's grown and produced next door to the vineyards. Duh -- it's the terroir, stupid. Beyond the science of matching soil and climate and vines, which is important (only?) to growers and winemakers and wine snobs, terroir is important to consumers because wine and food go together. The wines of the southern Rhône, Chateuneuf du Pape and Cotes du Rhône, for example, are made primarily of Grenache, with Mourvedre, Syrah and a few others allowed in the mix under French law. It's not just stuffy bureaucracy that causes French law to govern what grapes can be grown where -- over centuries they have come to understand that the wines of a place and the food of a place belong together.

The point I want to raise for readers' consideration is that world wine doesn't fit your lifestyle as well as local wine, if you think there's value in giving attention to food that's produced close to home. Not just close to your home, though we revere our farmers' market colleagues. Ophir partners Craig and Martye Green experienced the compatibility of local food and local wine on their recent trip to Italy, described in Craig's piece elsewhere. Everywhere they went they were struck by the perfect natural match of local food and local cuisine. As it happens, we live in a Mediterranean climate, and we grow grapes in Gold Rush country, so we may discover culinary gold if we look to the Mediterranean for hospitable food and wine examples.

At Ophir Wines, we are committed to the Rhône varieties, and the wines we make are true California branches of their vinous family tree. Like the Mediterranean climate of the south of France, our Sierra foothills location is very warm and arid, yet it produces a bountiful harvest of produce, meat and game, and aromatic herbs. For much of the year, we're able to live mostly outdoors. It's natural that the foods we favor are light yet extraordinarily flavorful. No wonder, then, that the locally produced Rhone-style wines are rich, aromatic and engaging, yet light on the eye and palate and absent the heavy structure of wines made from other grapes, intended as they were originally, to match the food and lifestyles of cooler climes. So shed the suit of armor, kick back and enjoy a glass of Ophir Wines' Grenache, Mourvedre or Oui rosé -- these wines are made for you.

Until than, a votre sante.
Mike Abbott

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