Unravelling the Terroir Mystique

Prof. Alain Deloire

Montpellier SupAgro, France


The concept of terroir is a complex notion because apart from climate and soil, it includes the individuals, social organisations, and activities such as agricultural practices. The idea of geographical origin is important for products which lay claim to a terroir-linked typicality. Quantifying the terroir effect using criteria other than taste (such as the socio-economic development for the area) is important for arguing the case of a product in the face intellectual property rights and of international trade rules and rules of competition. Measuring the “terroir” effect on an agri-food product remains difficult for both trained experts and for the consumer, for whom the appreciation of the product or lack of it remains the principal criterion in its evaluation. This does not exclude the capacity to recognise the product’s properties, but it should be remembered that the perceived taste and aromas will be transformed by the individual’s experience into a unique overall impression of taste and smell. It would seem that the enrichment of the terroir concept over the centuries is a strong signal of its social importance. What is a product’s relationship to terroir and is this relationship identifiable?