My body, sadly, is not a temple and every now and then I make a half-hearted effort to do something about it. Most recently, I splurged and hired a personal trainer. He was lean, muscular, irritatingly positive, and not much older than my nephew. At the end of our first session, he sat me down and had me come clean about my bad habits, my love of wine, and food, and so on. With a raised eyebrow, he informed me that ‘wellness’ requires a holistic approach. He instructed me to drink less wine, watch my diet, and drink 5 litres of water a day. Only then, holistically, would my body become a temple. Perhaps it is the impact of having a French word repeatedly shouted at random by an angry Italian but I was determined to understand terroir. The word ‘holistic’ gets thrown around by every industry, its true meaning increasingly lost and muddled. I cut my teeth drinking Italian and French wines back when I worked for three Italian brothers who were less than complimentary about the selection of New World wines that we sold. The difference, they told me, is that winemakers in the New World did not take seriously the French concept of terroir – which means ‘of the land’. Often, it gets mistaken for being all about the relationship between the grapes and the soil that they are grown in, but the true notion of terroir is much more than that. It also relates to the climate, the aspect and slope of the land, the local features such as mountains, rivers or coast, and anything that grows around the vines. It’s a holistic approach, in the truest sense of the word. Perhaps it is the impact of having a French word repeatedly shouted at random by an angry Italian but I was determined to understand terroir. I was fortunate to taste wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux, as well as some of Italy’s finest, and before long, I could sit confidently with the Italian brothers and agree that terroir was supremely important. I knew the exact moment that I should simply stare misty-eyed into the glass with a gentle swirl and utter the words ‘Yeah, terroir…’ knowing that it would be met with approval by my wise Italian mentors. As I branched out in the industry, I came to realize that New World winemakers knew a thing or two about terroir as well, although there remains plenty of debate among winemakers. I spoke with an Australian winemaker who told me it was a ridiculous notion.‘Good winemaking makes good wine, not terroir’ he informed me. I couldn’t argue; his wines were incredibly well crafted. But they didn’t tug at my heartstrings like the sultry Burgundians and Tuscans that the Italian brothers had terrified me into falling in love with a few years earlier. Terroir, in the simplest sense, is the relationship between all the things that come together to affect the quality of the wine. In a practical sense, it’s the reason why certain grape varieties are permitted in some parts of France but not in others, it’s the reason why wines from Bordeaux’s left bank are different from the right bank, and it’s the reason why Italy has seemingly billions of little known indigenous grapes that are only grown in one tiny part of one tiny region. It’s the reason why a wine made in Burgundy might be ten times more expensive than another wine whose grapes were grown on a patch of land only metres away, where conditions are only slightly different. It’s easy to get lost in terroir talk among wine enthusiasts. It is a subject that evokes a lot of passion, and debate. And my Australian friend was absolutely right, good winemaking makes good wine, to be sure. But that’s not how I would end the debate. For me, that magic ineffable is what terroir is all about, and no amount of good winemaking can recreate it. Nowadays I have a healthy appreciation for the wines of the New World, with a particular affection for the reds of California and Argentina. I appreciate well-structured wines with finesse, and over the years I’ve started to notice more than just a nod to terroir from winemakers in unlikely places. Still, there is nothing I love more than getting lost in a glass of stinky old red Burgundy. Dirty and rugged and inimitable, it’s a perfect example of what can be achieved when every element works in harmony. For me, that magic ineffable is what terroir is all about, and no amount of good winemaking can recreate it. Despite of our mutual appreciation for the holistic approach, I ended the relationship with my personal trainer after the five sessions. I went back to exercising when I felt like it, eating what I wanted and drinking only slightly more water than wine. It felt good. Maybe someday I will adopt a more holistic approach to wellness, but for now I’ll stick with a good glass of wine in the evenings – and if I should stare into it, misty eyed, and utter ‘yeah, terroir…’ then all the better. So what is terroir? Buy a really good wine, stick your nose in the glass, and find out for yourself.