Interview: Ronan Sayburn discusses the importance of terroir

Hotel du Vin Group’s director of wine and spirits Ronan Sayburn drops in to the Academy of Food and Wine Service to discuss the importance of ‘terroir’ – the effect of geography, geology, climate and other factors on the quality of a wine.

Q. Ronan, why is terroir important to the character of a wine and why is an appreciation of it necessary for a top sommelier?

Ronan Sayburn [above]: Terroir is vital to making good wine as it’s a combination of a lot of small things that add up to an overall level of perfection – like making great food it’s a combination of ingredients, technique and seasoning.

Terroir in wine is everything from choosing correct rootstocks, trellising correctly, pruning, canopy management, pest control, picking and making the wine; all of which falls under the winemaker’s skill.

But if the hillside is not positioned at the correct angle, the water table too deep for aqueous rock, the climate too frosty in winter, the soils too fertile and so on, great wines cannot be achieved.

Many European winemakers would use the term “terroir” with some mystical implications that suggest it cannot be found anywhere else but it’s all just down to very good site selection that comes through experience.

Q. Do customers understand – or care – when you talk about terroir? How do you make it interesting and relevant to them?

RS: I would think most customers have never heard of the concept of terroir, but in its basic form it’s a very easy concept for a sommelier to explain. Good terroir is the thing that makes certain wines classics – this is due to perfect climate, location, geography, geology and winemaker skills that all work to make the wine excellent.

Q. You mentioned that you were interested in geology as a youngster – does this give you any particular perspective or expertise when it comes to terroir? Is a background in scientific knowledge a necessary part of a sommelier’s wine training?

RS: Yes most definitely – sciences are crucial. Biology, chemistry, horticulture, physics, carpentry, geology, geography, etc. are all such important elements in winemaking that sommeliers must know the basics.

Has Ronan whetted your appetite for a career in wine? Find out more about training with the Academy of Food and Wine Service by clicking here. Read his thoughts on why you should consider sommelier training here.

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