terclim by ICS banner
IVES 9 IVES Conference Series 9 Deconstructing the soil component of terroir: from controversy to consensus

Deconstructing the soil component of terroir: from controversy to consensus


Wine terroir describes the collectively recognized relation between a geographical area and the distinctive organoleptic characteristics of the wines produced in it. The overriding objective in terroir studies is therefore to provide scientific proof relating the properties of terroir components to wine quality and typicity. In scientific circles, the role of climate (macro-, meso- and micro-) on grape and wine characteristics is well documented and accepted as the most critical. Moreover, there has been increasing interest in recent years about new elements with possible importance in shaping wine terroir like berry/leaf/soil microbiology or even aromatic plants in proximity to the vineyard conferring flavors to the grapes. However, the actual effect of these factors is also dependent on complex interactions with plant material (variety/clone, rootstock, vine age) and with human factors. 
The contribution of soil, although a fundamental component of terroir and extremely popular among wine enthusiasts, remains a much-debated issue among researchers. The role of geology is probably the one mostly associated by consumers with the notion of terroir with different parent rocks considered to give birth to different wine styles. However, the relationship between wine properties and the underlying parent material raises a lot of controversy especially regarding the actual existence of rock-derived flavors in the wine (e.g. minerality). As far as the actual soil properties are concerned, the effect of soil physical properties is generally regarded as the most significant (e.g sandy soils being associated with lighter wines while those on clay with colored and tannic ones) mostly through control of water availability which ultimately modifies berry ripening conditions either directly by triggering biosynthetic pathways, or indirectly by altering vigor and yield components. The role of soil chemistry seems to be weakly associated to wine sensory characteristic, although N, K, S and Ca, but also soil pH, are often considered important in the overall soil effect. 
Recently, in the light of evidence provided by precision agriculture studies reporting a high variability of vineyard soils, the spatial scale should also be taken into consideration in the evaluation of the soil effects on wines. While it is accepted that soil effects become more significant than climate on a local level, it is not clear whether these micro-variations of vineyard soils are determining in the terroir effect. Moreover, as terroir is not a set of only natural factors, the magnitude of the contribution of human-related factors (irrigation, fertilization, soil management) to the soil effect still remains ambiguous. Lastly, a major shortcoming of the majority of works about soil effects on wine characteristics is the absence of connection with actual vine physiological processes since all soil effects on grape and wine chemistry and sensorial properties are ultimately mediated through vine responses. 
This article attempts to breakdown the main soil attributes involved in the terroir effect to suggest an improved understanding about soil’s true contribution to wine sensory characteristics. It is proposed that soil parameters per se are not as significant determining factors in the terroir effect but rather their mutual interactions as well as with other natural and human factors included in the terroir concept. Consequently, similarly to bioclimatic indices, composite soil indices (i.e. soil depth, water holding capacity, fertility, temperature etc), incorporating multiple soil parameters, might provide a more accurate and quantifiable means to assess the relative weight of the soil component in the terroir effect.


Publication date: May 31, 2022

Issue: Terclim 2022

Type: Article


Stefanos Koundouras

Laboratory of Viticulture, School of Agriculture, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece

Contact the author


IVES Conference Series | Terclim 2022


Related articles…

Agronomic behaviour of a native grapevine cultivar from the North of Spain (Vitis vinifera L.) in a mountain viticulture area and in a coastal zone

A work involving the finding, the description and the recovery of old grapevine varieties from the north and north east of Spain was begun in the CSIC in the year 1987.

Can soil nitrate explain polyphenol and anthocyanin content in vineyard with similar available soil water regime? 

Nitrogen (N) is quite important nutrient in grapevine development and must quality, but under Mediterranean climatic conditions, available soil water (ASW) during grapevine development can also influence vigour and must quality. The aim was to determine the influence of soil nitrate (NO3-) availability on N foliar, yield, and must quality in vineyards with similar available water holding capacity (AWC). For this purpose, four cv. Tempranillo (Vitis vinifera L.) vineyards were selected. All of them are placed in Uruñuela municipality (La Rioja, Spain), separated less than 2.5 km and in a slope <1 %, in soils with similar soil chemistry properties and with similar rooting depth (ranging between 105 cm and 110 cm).

Crown procyanidin quantification in red wines, rosé wines and Port wines

Condensed grape tannins play a major role in the organoleptic properties and quality of red wine. Recently, a new sub-family of macrocyclic condensed tannins has been identified in red wine and named “crown tannins”. Indeed, the first compound of the family identified and characterised by NMR was the crown procyanidin tetramer which is composed of a macrocyclic structure composed of four (-)-epicatechins link together by B-type interflavanoid linkage in the following an alternative sequences of C4-C8 and C4-C6 linkage. The 3D structure of this unusual crown procyanidin family reveals a central cavity in the molecule [1].

Monitoring gas-phase CO2 in the headspace of champagne glasses through diode laser spectrometry

During Champagne or sparkling wine tasting, gas-phase CO2 and volatile organic compounds invade the headspace above glasses [1], thus progressively modifying the chemical space perceived by the consumer. Gas-phase CO2 in excess can even cause a very unpleasant tingling sensation perturbing both ortho- and retronasal olfactory perception [2]. Monitoring as accurately as possible the level of gas-phase CO2 above glasses is therefore a challenge of importance aimed at better understanding the close relationship between the release of CO2 and a collection of various tasting parameters.

Vineyard management for environment valorisation

[lwp_divi_breadcrumbs home_text="IVES" use_before_icon="on" before_icon="||divi||400" module_id="publication-ariane" _builder_version="4.19.4" _module_preset="default" module_text_align="center" module_font_size="16px" text_orientation="center"...