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The Beauty of Terroir

June 4, 2012

Always carry a corkscrew and the wine shall provide itself.”  Basil Bunting

It has only been in the last few years that I have really begun to enjoy wine. I enjoy the culture of wine, the creativity that goes into winemaking, the history, and mostly, just the experience. And there are more varieties being produced from a record number of countries from around the world than ever before. The old notions of snobbish wine drinkers are disappearing as more wines are being produced for immediate enjoyment rather than to be aged for years before opening.

But what goes into the producing of a wine and why should one select one wine over another? That, my friend, is a subject worthy of a long night’s discussion over a bottle or two. But for this purposes of these notes, we shall talk about grapes and terroir.

Terroir is a French word that describes a sense of place and with regards to wine, specifically the geography, climate, soil and composition, the lay of the terrain and how every square foot of place is different from every other place. Terroir is one of the reasons the Pinot Noir grapes of the Burgundy region of France produce a different wine from the Pinot Noir grapes grown in California or South America.

One of my favorite wines is Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello is made 100% from the Sangiovese grapes grown in Montalcino, Italy, about seventy miles south of Florence or Firenze.  I have had the good fortune of visiting Tuscany three times in recent years and I must confess that I have fallen in love with the region. I have had wonderful experiences with the people and the food and, of course, the wine. Montalcino is one of the driest and warmest areas of Tuscany, which isn’t good for a lot of crops but if it hits at the right time, is perfect for growing wine grapes. But even within town this small, the quality of the grapes can vary from one side to another, grown just a few miles apart.  The grapes grown on northern and eastern slopes differ greatly from those grown on the same hills but on the western and southern slopes. The vintners can produce two subtly different Brunellos from the same hill, all because of the terroir.

In writing, we all have access to the same words, the same dictionary, and the same alphabet. So why is it that we can continually produce new works? It is our literary terroir.

In fiction, we say that it is important that your story be grounded in a sense of place and that is true. But more importantly, your story must come from a sense of place. You grew up in a different time and place from me so your perspective on your story will be different from mine. Even those born on the same date as you, who lived in the same neighborhood as you did, maybe even across the street from you will have a different angle, a different take on life, on writing, on story.

Why is this important?

You are the only person who can tell your story. You have insights and will use language and descriptions differently. Your story will have a different meaning than mine. Too often, we feel as if we should write like others. We see so many stories and films that are obviously taken from other similar, successful, stories and films. Maybe this is a good strategy from a financial standpoint but it isn’t a good plan to be artistically satisfied.

There is only one you. You have been planted on your hillside. That is where you should grow and produce. Your circumstances, your surroundings, your time period, for better or worse, are what make up your terroir. Red or white, sweet or dry, you are who you are and that is a good thing. Embrace your terroir and grow from it. Tell your story in that way that only you can. The world needs your stories, now more than ever.

Personal notes – I’ve refocused my efforts at losing some weight and lost two pounds this week. I’ve ridden my bike the last two days, which felt great. I had a bit of a breakthrough in a scene for the novel and another new character has emerged that will have a special place in the first third of the novel. I’ve just scheduled a writing workshop for the morning of June 23rd at Willow Oak Center . My son and daughter in law are fast approaching the projected due date of our first grandchild, Jude on June 17th. I’m predicting that he’ll be born on the 7th but we’ll see. All are healthy, if uncomfortable. Although I’m staying close to home for June, I will be in Paris from July 19 through the 29th and will have a few spots available for one on one sessions for writing/life coaching mentoring in the City of Light. Wine will be included in all sessions. You might note the brighter look to both my website and my blog. This is because of the wonderful help of David Paine. He’s a marketing guru and a wonderful writer and blogger as well. You can find him at

Tip of the Week – Determine where your writing fits into the priorities in your life. Be honest. You may be at a point where it’s a lower priority than you’d like and that is okay. However, it’s more likely that you haven’t thought about this and, as a result, it has no priority. Once you’ve determined where it should fit, then plan your weekly schedule accordingly. Most of us have family that come at the top of the list and we have work schedules that have little flexibility. What else? A lot of us nurture our spiritual lives so make time for that. Find where in the pecking order your writing fits and then schedule times for that. Sacred, protected, time. Make an appointment with yourself and guard it, just as you would the time you invest in all of the other important activities and events in your life.

Retreats – Looking for a time to get away and write? Then go ahead and make plans to attend one of the last two retreats I’ll be a part of this year. The first is the “It’s Not Just Creative Writing, It’s Creative Living, Come Play With Us” Writer’s Retreat in New Harmony, Indiana from August 13-17 with Dave DeGolyer and Cathy Shap. If you’re looking for closer to Tennessee, then join me and Charlotte Rains Dixon for our September 27-30 retreat at the Penuel Ridge Retreat Center in Ashland City, Tennessee. For all information, including how to work with me as a coach and mentor, go to


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