On a recent overseas sake promotion project guiding wine experts around breweries in Japan, one term that popped up more times than I care to remember was terroir. Not from the wine experts, but from the breweries, who were using it in their marketing spiel.
However, what I later learned from the feedback of the participants is that very few were really using the term correctly. They were claiming there was a terroir where perhaps there wasn’t. I realized that in the sake world, the concept, if it even existed, or needed to exist, was blurred. Many breweries think that throwing in words from the wine world instantly makes their sake more familiar overseas, but in reality, very few people really relate to or understand these buzzwords that they are using.
Despite having recently acquired a high-level wine qualification, I myself didn’t have a perfect grasp of the terroir concept. As you may have noticed in this podcast, I couldn’t even pronounce the word properly. I learned that there is even a debate in the wine world about the true definition of terroir. If the wine world is still not sure what terroir is, then surely its adoption by the sake world is a little premature. The more research I did on the topic, the more it became clear that the timing was right to get a podcast on this topic out in the open.
The intention was never to conquer the topic in one episode. This episode is simply laying the groundwork for future exploration. I went into this podcast on the fence about terroir. And I remain on the fence. Terroir definitely helps the smaller breweries stand out, but I am not sure it is the right word they should be using to talk about what is essentially just regionality.
We didn’t really talk much about the protective purpose of terroirs with regards to geographic indications, etc., but this always felt to me like an entirely different debate. Some of our listeners may already have made their mind up about the terroir of sake, but whatever your feelings about this topic, I definitely think more debate and more analysis is needed before we jump to any conclusions. In future episodes, I think we will need to include more insight from the actual brewers and representatives of the wine world to help flesh out the discussion.
Directors cut: we also talked about the relationship between local cuisine and sake, Japanese beer production, and the concept of jizake, but these segments all sort of felt like they lost focus a bit, so they didn’t make it into the final cut. We may (likely) revisit any or all of these one day.
– Chris H. (aka Big Chris) –