Professor claims terroir is ‘a myth’

The quality of some of the world’s top wines is down to a concentration of expertise rather than terroir, a French professor has argued.

valery-michaux-bigTop wines such as Champagne and Rioja are not successful because of the chemistry of the soil, the climate or local knowledge, but because of a concentration of expertise, according to a work co-authored by Professor Valéry Michaux, director of research at NEOMA Business School in Rouen.

In the book, Strategies of wine-making territories, clusters, governance and territorial brand, Professor Michaux argues international success is down to a combination of the “cluster effect”, strong governance and a single territorial brand, rather than any notion of terroir.

Michaux claims the success of wine regions is not primarily down to how the wine tastes but rather a collaborative effort between like minded winemakers and producers.

Michaux cites California’s Silicon Valley as an example of the “cluster effect” which links several disparate circles together including a strong entrepreneurial culture, direct competition, continuous experimentation, innovation and mutual help and solidarity.

She argues: “The presence of a strategic alliance between professionals contributes significantly to the development of a single territorial umbrella brand and thus its influence. A strong local self- governance is also essential for a territorial brand to exist.”

The book was written by a team of French and international researchers from several disciplines within economics and management.

The group analysed the case studies of various vineyards around the world including those from successful regions Champagne and Rioja, developing regions such as those of Cahors and Armenia and more dispersed growers and co=operatives such as those in Northern Italy and Labanon’s Bekaa Valley.

16 Responses to “Professor claims terroir is ‘a myth’”

  1. David Boyer says:

    I suggest that this so-called research is a “cluster effect”, which links ignorance with blind ambition, and a mutual desire to make unsupportable claims from people that want to see their names in print. This is the most ridiculous assertion I’ve heard yet, but it makes sense that it would come from economists and a business management culture that know nothing about wine, enology, or viticulture.

    Perhaps this is promulgated by the aberrant teetotalers in France?

    David Boyer

  2. Andrew says:

    This is hilarious. Taken to the logical extreme, the wines of the Languedoc, Central Valley and Riverland in Australia will produce better wine than Burgundy/Bordeaux/Rhone, Napa/Sonoma/Oregon and Barossa Valley/Margaret River/Yarra Valley as long as they get a sufficient concentration of ‘expertise’.

    If it was vaguely accurate, somebody in the wider industry might have noticed by now…

  3. Mitchell says:

    Right…so Iberico Ham, Alba Truffles, and Morels are a myth. Let’s all plant Montrachet clones in our backyard!!

  4. Roger says:

    Have to suggest actually walking a vineyard and tasting berries at harvest, then walk another of the same varietal in a different place. Must always just taste the same

  5. Mark says:

    Local knowledge is considered part of terrior. Otherwise calling that a “concentration of expertise” is largely a matter of semantics. Unless we’re talking about something other than the wine itself.

    Clearly soil, growing season, and weather can’t be ignored when we talk about wine quality. The professor sidesteps the issue of wine quality by arguing that international brand success is not so much a matter of how the wine tastes but rather is more a matter of expertise. Which includes marketing, networking, promotion, spin, and politics.

    I’ve had some fairly bad expensive wines revered by many. It takes a specific expertise to sell that worldwide.

  6. Philip says:

    I don’t put blind faith in science but I do educate myself and agree with it 99.9% of the time. I don’t understand why people disregard it so often. Michaux starts out by throwing all science out the window. Then uses her years of research in management and sociology to come up with her own theory of why wine regions are successful.

  7. Virtually Nothing says:

    Might it not be possible that those who clustered’s raison d’être was the terroir in the first place?

    No, of course not. Occam had no razor, he used a Braun.

  8. Wayne says:

    Even a broken clock is correct twice a day. Just because she has an agenda to promote and has ignored all evidence contrary to her thesis doesn’t mean that she’s entirely wrong, either.

  9. Tim says:

    Of course soil, climate, vineyard management and winemaking practice – perhaps along with special local strains of native yeasts, make a difference in wine quality But I agree that ‘terroir’ – a term that wraps up climate, soil, culture, and anything else having to do with site specificity – is a somewhat mythical concept. If it involves ‘everything’, then it doesn’t really explain anything. Within a given climate, I suspect that much of what people call terroir has to do with when and how much water is available to the vine – which strongly influences how much and how fast the vine grows.

  10. Wes Hagen says:

    Terroir exists where the grapes have adapted to the environment (Old World). I disagree that terroir can exist in an area where foreign grapes were stolen and put on alien soil. Of course those regions exhibit character and typicity, but I think the idea of true ‘terroir’ should be left to the Old World until we can at least claim 5-10 generations of massal selection for a vine that has adapted to place. You can’t have a relationship with an environment with zero evolutionary pressure and human intervention in the context of field selection.

  11. Doug Levin says:

    Oh my goodness! Here we go again. I think what is missing here is a trained palate, perhaps? At the most basic level, cool climate vineyards are shown to produce higher pH (acidity) in the juice. Refute that! This is sensational science crap, looking for controversy. I agree – whether the soil itself actually imparts nuances of flavor is questionable, but there are other ways for the vines to be affected by their environment. I have tasted Australian wines using fruit sourced from vineyards adjacent to Eucalyptus trees and there is definitely a camphor component… Other factors that stress the vines have an impact, i.e. percentage of organic matter, water availability. This impacts berry size, concentration and percentage of skins to juice (tannins for reds). I could go on… but I won’t bore all of you. This idea is supposed to be based on hard science, but our lack of understanding of the chemistry of taste is fairly obvious.

  12. Lindsay says:

    Oh my. I do not know how this business professor has deemed herself as expert enough to write on this topic at all. This makes as much sense as me venturing into writing about economics and business and tossing out supply and demand. These researchers are clearly well out of their depth and wading into absolute foreign territory. It is clear that they have never been in the industry in any capacity and if they spent event one day in Pinot vineyard here in Oregon they would see fault in their generalizations. I think we can all agree that the level of expertise of the winegrowers and winemakers has huge impact on the flavor profile of any wine, but tossing out terroir as a component is absolutely ludicrous.

  13. Mike says:

    Perhaps the heading should read:-


    instead of


  14. joaco alegre says:

    I agree with this sentence:”Michaux claims the success of wine regions is not primarily down to how the wine tastes but rather a collaborative effort between like minded winemakers and producers”.
    If the sole question for a good wine is “the terroir”, you can do a simple experiment: replace expertized winemakers by monkeys (they are cheaper to maintain).
    Proffesor Michaux is dealing with nuances talking about production and perceived quality in wine: that is the way to increase the inteligence of a sector.

  15. Mike says:

    ‘replace expertized winemakers by monkeys (they are cheaper to maintain).’

    You obviously haven’t worked as a winemaker!

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