Landscape is what you see, Terroir is what you taste. Together is Sustainable Development

Terroir is a French word that has been subject to much abuse by the English speaking world. It is often limited to the speech of wine enthusiasts, where its meaning is severely restricted to this one product of the land. Look beyond the confines of this purposefully pompous use and terroir can lead to an understanding of the interconnected landscape and help towards establishing real sustainable development.

Terroir existed and still does exist in pockets of the British rural landscape. It is the antithesis of modern land management as defined by the NFU, CLA and a host of other large mainstream UK lobbyists. And if embraced again in Britain and elsewhere would strike fear into the heart of Monsanto, Bayer and many other multi national corporations, particularly the food industry.

Terroir has been translated as meaning a sense of place and certainly it ties in with more modern concepts of landscape that cross the boundaries between Art and land management planning. But it is much more about the sense of taste. The French really do know about taste and celebrate it, live for it and terroir is in reality little more than the reason behind that taste.

Any ambiguity surrounding the English definition of terroir is because of the fact that there is a complexity of natural and managed elements within a landscape that are interconnected and which together create something tangible to human beings not just living there, but abroad that can be found in the taste of both wild and farmed food.

The geology, topography, vegetation, elevation, biodiversity, geography (including human), water cycle, climate, archaeology, cultural heritage, agriculture, forestry and most importantly soil in a particular location have an effect on what can be produced in that location. ‘Paysage’, the literal translation of ‘Landscape’ is what you can see resulting from this – ‘Terroir’ with no translation is what you can taste.

Any and all changes which affect any of the above in a location are thus only carried out after scrutiny of the science. If the science changes the French are often amongst the first to adopt a precautionary principle and ban. The installation of terroir into the culture helps as a highly effective buffer against biodiversity decline. However there is considerable pressure and financial incentives upon the French agricultural community by lobbyists to adopt practice designed by multinational corporations, a process which has been perpetuated by CAP.

Terroir is threatened by globalisation and trans-boundary policy making particularly by the EU – yet paradoxically is also aided by EU recognition of regional produce.

Imitating the produce of a location and producing it in another location, often in another country lowers the quality and the price – devaluing the original landscape (as well as reducing that imitating location’s ability to produce its own high quality product). When the French demand that imitation products cannot share the name of their location, this is because of terroir – how can you call a fizzy wine made in Spain, Bulgaria or England champagne?  Doing so defies the real logic of terroir and confuses every French person who has grown up comfortable with this word. When other countries demand protection of a product’s name linked to a geographical location it is usually solely due to economic protectionism.

Taste is vitally important if the non French speaking world are to broaden their horizons with the economic potential of a location. Why call a cheese made in the same way as that in the village of Cheddar, yet produced in North Yorkshire ‘Cheddar’? It is not the same product. And instead of using ‘food science’ to manipulate the product to taste the same, why not celebrate the difference instead of spending vast quantities of money to outsell very high quality ‘farm’ produced cheeses which have a unique taste and have chosen to celebrate the place it was made by rightly naming the product from it.

One product that exemplifies terroir in the UK and enjoys large revenue and status is Whisky. Many distilleries are now owned by multi national corporations who actually use the highland identity – its terroir – to sell their goods.  Is corporate ownership and terroir incompatible? No – and in doing so you preserve by default the bottom line of sustainable development.

Terroir is what the English speaking world define, but rarely understand, as sustainable development but with added benefits, because the most important factor of terroir is that it ultimately results in pleasure.

Terroir is to enjoy Sustainable Development



Filed under Trees and Woodlands

4 responses to “Landscape is what you see, Terroir is what you taste. Together is Sustainable Development

  1. Pingback: Landscape is what you see, Terroir is what you taste. Together is Sustainable Development | SGAP - Sistema di gestione ambiental-paesaggistico |

  2. Pingback: Landscape is what you see, Terroir is what you taste. Together is Sustainable Development | Green Infrastructure |

  3. Pingback: Landscape is what you see, Terroir is what you taste. Together is Sustainable Development | landscape architecture & sustainability |

  4. Pingback: Economy, Environmen​t – but where is Society? | europeantrees

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