Home Industry News Releases Growing Grapes Globally: International Terroir Congress Comes to Oregon

Growing Grapes Globally: International Terroir Congress Comes to Oregon


International Terroir Congress Logo(Ashland, Ore.) — Last week, more than 125 scientists from over 20 countries convened for the 11th International Terroir Congress in McMinnville, Oregon to present and discuss their research on grape growing and wine making. Terroir is the notion that environmental characteristics such as soil, climate, and plant management are expressed in the wine and reflect a specific place.  Southern Oregon University professor, Dr. Gregory V. Jones, organized the congress and chaired the four-day conference.

The International Terroir Congress has never before convened in the United States; the 10th International Terroir Congress was held in Tokaj, Hungary in 2014. Greg Jones’ international reputation in the climatology of viticulture and his work in vineyards around the world influenced the decision to hold the Congress in Oregon. “Bringing the congress to Oregon was about the pride I have for our state’s natural beauty, our lively food and wine scene and the passionate people that make it all happen,” Greg Jones said. “Many of the attendees had never been to Oregon before and now know us as something other than a state north of California!”

An eager and attentive crowd gathered to hear technical and scientific papers about climate change, precision agriculture, vineyard zone mapping, geologic and soil influences, and social aspects of terroir, themes that resonated with all despite the range of languages and accents. Climate change was high on the agenda and all scientists recognized the need to adjust growing practices and plan for changing growing conditions.

“The climate is becoming warmer and in many situations drier, so we will have to manage more and more water deficit and in some situations water stress,” Kees van Leeuwen, viticulture professor at Bordeaux University said. van Leeuwen noted that increased irrigation is not always a satisfactory environmental response adding, “We’re running out of water and water is more and more scarce.” He pointed out that some Mediterranean growing regions do not irrigate at all and consider other ways to manage water deficit including choice of root stock, varietal selection, and vine training systems.

European scientists, polished and urbane, were in turn surprised, delighted, amazed, and puzzled by some of their Oregon experiences: cannabis and drive through coffee shops on every corner, the profusion of goods at Albertson’s, the smoky scent of planked salmon fired over open pits, biodynamic vineyard practices, and screw top wine bottles.

Oregon’s wines were featured at every meal, paired especially with the locally sourced foods prepared for the event. Of course Oregon’s cooler climate Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Rieslings were celebrated as among the best in the world, but attendees also experienced high quality Syrah, Merlot, Tempranillo and a wide diversity other warmer climate varieties from Southern Oregon. Oregon producers and regional winery associations provided wines for all events, and not a bottle was left uncorked.

Terroir scientists are soil geeks and after a day listening to papers, headed out to the vineyards equipped with picks and rock hammers. Highpoints of the congress were tours to three Willamette Valley vineyards: LEED-certified vineyard Stoller Family Estate (Dundee Hills AVA), the steep sloped Maysara biodynamic vineyard (McMinnville AVA), and Adelsheim (Chehalem Mountains AVA), one of the oldest Willamette vineyards. These vineyards, along with the wines poured there, illustrated the unique landscapes, soil composition and grape growing, and winemaking techniques of the growing areas. Soil scientists and volcanologists clambered into the six-foot deep trenches excavated at each vineyard, examining handfuls of dirt, picking up rocks, and photographing findings.

International Terroir Congress

Portland State University geology professor Scott Burns discussing geology and soil characteristics of the Willamette Valley while at Stoller Family Estates in the Dundee Hills (photo credit; Maureen Battistella, Southern Oregon University).

The word terroir was first used centuries ago in the Burgundian vineyards of France to describe defined grape growing regions and is now the basis of the French system of appellation d’origine controlee or AOC. Today, American wines are defined and labeled as to American Viticultural Area, a system derived in part from the AOC.  Oregon has 18 of these American Viticultural Areas from the Willamette Valley and its six sub-regions, to the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla and the newly minted Rocks of Milton-Freewater, and in Southern Oregon with the Umpqua, Rogue and Applegate valleys and Elkton and Red Hills of Douglas County.  Terroir is now widely applied to many agricultural products and is considered a cornerstone of the artisan food movement.

The 11th International Terroir Congress gave Oregon’s wine grape growers and wine makers an opportunity to learn from and share with viticulturalists from all over the world. Mark Chien, Program Director of the Oregon Wine Research Institute, said, “This is about the most international conference I’ve ever been at in my entire career in the wine industry and the talks have been superb.”  Italian geologist Enzo de Novellis thanked Greg Jones for organizing the Congress, “All in Oregon was fantastico: people, wine, terroir, and your special kindness. I’ll not forget for the rest of my life.”

The 12th International Terroir Congress will be in Zaragoza, Spain in 2018. For more information including the full proceedings of the 2016 Congress, visit TerroirCongress.org or contact Dr. Gregory Jones at [email protected] 541-552-6484.

About Southern Oregon University

Southern Oregon University is a medium-sized campus that provides comprehensive educational opportunities with a strong focus on student success and intellectual creativity. Located in vibrant Ashland, Oregon, SOU remains committed to diversity and inclusion for all students on its environmentally sustainable campus. Connected learning programs taught by a host of exceptional faculty provide quality, innovative experiences for students. Visit sou.edu.

Terroir Congress

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