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The Savoir of Wine: A New Term to Describe a Process as Old as Wine

Wine Consumer Magazine, Sean Piper
08/08/2014

Wine consumers hear a lot about the concept of “terroir” -- a term coined by the French to describe the unique conditions that influence the characteristics of vineyards and grapes. The concept of terroir has become central to the identity of the world's most famous wine regions. But what influences the grapes after they are picked and sent to the winemaker? The influences on the fruit (and the wine) don't cease after the grapes are picked, do they? No, they certainly do not. If indeed these influences continue, shouldn't there be a word -- like terroir -- to collectively describe them?

I'm going to explain an important concept in wine that I call “savoir”.  Savoir is a French word that means "to know.” In my use of this word as it applies to wine, it means everything the wine "knows." I chose a French word to describe this concept because the word that describes the first part of wine grape influence (terroir) is also a French word. Both words conveniently rhyme. 

Terroir: local, land
Savoir: knowledge, learning

 Let's begin with the classic understanding of terroir. 

Terroir - The taste of the land where the grapes are grown.

In the vineyard, grapevines are influenced through direct contact with the earth, through the conditions of the local climate, and through other surrounding environmental factors. Additionally, whatever the grape grower does, while working within the unique constraints of the terroir, will influence the quality of the vines and fruit. These influencing factors affect the taste and quality of the fruit (gout de terroir). 

Savoir - The taste of all influences acquired by the wine through the process of vinification. 

In the winery, the winemaker transforms the fruit into wine by the imparting of "knowledge" through chemistry and science. Environmental factors connected to the physical location where this transformation occurs instills further knowledge into the wine. The wine is stored for aging and consequently, the longer the wine ages, the more "knowledge" it absorbs. These influencing factors affect the final taste of the wine as a result of the special knowledge it has obtained (gout de savoir). Perhaps, this is what it means when we "thirst for knowledge." 

Therefore, a wine's taste exhibits unique characteristics of both terroir and savoir. 

Savoir is to wine what terroir is to grapes. 

A wine's unique savoir includes factors from wind, sunlight, wild yeasts, pollen, local aromatics, and the ambiance of the winery itself. The winemaker's biological essence and radiating energy will also influence the wine. 

A wine's savoir is collective knowledge acquired along the journey from harvested grape cluster to final product.  Anything and everything that happens to the fruit after it is picked is savoir. 

Savoir is the direct infusion of unique "knowledge" into wine -- knowledge of the winemaking technique, knowledge of the place of fermentation, and knowledge of the aging process. In this, wine is like a student of life, always learning, and absorbing knowledge with every experience it encounters. 

Ultimately, and ideally, Savoir leads to the wine's expertise in knowing how to do one very special thing: pleasing and satisfying you, the wine consumer.

 

Cheers,

Sean.

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