Like so many of the terms used in English to describe wine, terroir is a French concept. For the centuries before the French government formalized the understanding of terroir there was general consensus on the top regions, sites and varieties. As early as the 15th century laws were promolgated to remove undesirable varieties from the best sites in certain regions, so it is safe to say that France got a head start on everyone else in understanding and delimiting its vinous geography. This is not to say that the appellation system in France is without flaws but overall it has done more to protect and promote the idea of terroir than any other system yet to be devised. If we can critique it, it is only because it has established a foundation from which varying expression of terroir can be debated.
This, possibly excessive throat clearing, is the best way to understand what is currently happening in Spain. Late last year, a group of winemakers, sommeliers, and critics met to issue a challenge to the governing bodies of Spanish DOs. You can read the full manifesto, translated into English here, and review a list of the signatories. What is most surprising about the manifesto is how fundamentally conservative it is. It asks for recognition of specific sites and demands the creation of a quality hierarchy independent from the current system which only recognizes time in barrel and bottle. Basically it is turning back the clock to the early decades of the 20th century… in Burgundy!
The list of signatories include many people we represent as well as many we respect. Furthermore is reflects many people who have left their respective DOs and those who have decided to stay and continue to push for reforms from within.
Years ago in an interview, Eric Solomon stated that he was far more interested in place rather than process and that simple statement became our motto. It is hard to argue that such a simple statement made in passing is one of the most profound things you can say about a wine.