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'Terroir' Conference to Examine Link Between Wine and Earth Science

July 27, 2005

Photo: bunch of grapes with flask

The quality of a fine wine is not just about the delicate balance of sugars and acids, but reflects the climate, soils and even geology of the vineyard that produced the wine, according to a popular and much discussed concept known as "terroir."

Some 500 researchers and wine industry representatives will gather March 19-22 at the University of California, Davis, to examine that concept and explore the science behind it during the international conference "Terroir 2006: A Dialogue Between Earth Scientists and Winemakers." The four-day conference will be hosted by UC Davis' Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

"Terroir is a concept on the lips of many people, but it's not clear exactly what it is or how it should be studied," said Ken Verosub, a geology professor and conference. "The goal of this conference is to bring together earth scientists and winemakers and develop a dialogue on terroir."

Terroir is the French word for soil, but in modern winemaking the term is commonly used to describe the influence of the natural environment on grape growing and wine production. While the concept is heartily embraced by some in the wine world, it is dismissed by others. The challenge facing participants in the March conference will be to better define terroir and develop an approach to scientifically studying its various aspects.

"We're looking forward to a lively and productive exchange of information and ideas during this gathering of researchers and wine authorities," said Clare Hasler, executive director of the Robert Mondavi Institute. "I'm particularly eager to see where this dialog will lead in terms of research and production practices."

Keynote speaker for the conference will be Jancis Robinson, an internationally known wine writer and editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine, who will discuss the meaning of terroir. The conference will continue through Wednesday with speakers addressing terroir around the world, geology, soils, nutrients, climate, water and the impact of global climate change.

Other speakers will include winemakers, wine writers and academics. Alain Carbonneau of the Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Vigne et du Vin in Montpellier, France, will open the conference Sunday evening. Representing UC Davis will be sensory scientist Jean-Xavier Guinard of the Department of Food Science and Technology and environmental plant biologist Mark Matthews from the Department of Viticulture and Enology.

Field trips will be held Thursday and Friday to vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma valleys and the Sierra foothills. A reception and dinner will be held Thursday evening at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena.

Registration fees will be $500 for industry participants and $350 for academic participants. A reduced registration fee will be set for students.

The complete conference program and background on speakers are available online at http://terroir2006.ucdavis.edu/

Conference host, the Robert Mondavi Institute, was established in 2001 at UC Davis as a global innovator in university-based wine and food programs. The institute is home to the largest and most prestigious wine and food science academic program in the world. Its teaching and research complex, now under construction, will house a winery, brewing and food science laboratory, vineyard and public education facilities

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