A French winemaker explains the four things that make up ‘terroir’

Domaines Paul Mas CEO Jean-Claude Mas. Photo: Simon Thomsen

When it comes to wine, people love to talk about “terroir” in a way that makes it sound like some sort of elusive, mythical creature.

But Jean-Claude Mas, founder of one of France’s most successful producers, Domaines Paul Mas, says there are “a lot of bullshit definitions” of what it actually means.

Mas, best known in Australia for the brand “Arrogant Frog”, runs 12 estates in France’s southern Languedoc region, covering 650 hectares, with 40 varieties planted. It’s the nation’s largest privately owned winemaking company, with 50 million euro in sales last year.

While the mystique around terroir is often believed to involve France’s soils, therefore making it impossible to replicate elsewhere, Mas says it’s far more complex than that, arguing there are four key elements.

Business Insider went to visit Jean-Claude Mas in Languedoc, where he told us that “Terroir is not only the soil.”

There are three key elements, he says:

“Terroir comprises of the earth where the vine is planted, the vine itself – what kind of vine, what kind of clone, what kind of rootstock – the way you manage it, the way you prune it, trellis it and vines per hectare.”

The fourth part is the most crucial factor, which he describes as “the conductor of this orchestra – the winemaker”.

“So terroir is four elements: soil, climate, vines and the man himself who basically orchestrates these three elements. This is the real definition of terroir.”

The view across the vineyards at Domaine de la Ferrandiere, in the Pays d’Oc region of Southern France – one of the estates owned by Paul Mas. Photo: Simon Thomsen

* Business Insider travelled to Languedoc as a guest of Domaines Paul Mas.