What we can learn from a French wine term.

In wine-making the French term “terroir” is often used. Terroir is the basis of the French wine Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system, which is a model for wine appellation and regulation in France, and around the world too. 

But what does it mean? According to WSET — Wine & Spirit Education Trust, terroir refers to “the natural environment where the grapes have been grown. It encompasses everything that makes a site unique, including its climate, soil and topography.”

I love this. Wine really is of a time and place, and other industries use this approach – agave (for Mezcal and Tequila), cider, coffee, tea, tobacco, maple syrup to name a few. But in many cases, particularly some industrially (‘generically’?) produced drinks, it’s virtually impossible to define exactly where each element of your product where grown. It could, quite literally, be unknown bits from anywhere.

From a marketing perspective, terroir gives a fantastic story to tell – one that truly is unique. But rather than just a story created to help sell a product, there’s much more to it.

WSET continue; “All the elements of terroir play a vital role in determining the ultimate taste and quality of the wine that is produced, but what is best for one region may not be ideal for another.”

What a great lesson for us (in business, in marketing, in… anything) when we consider *why* we are doing something and if we’re any different or not than the next person or company. Our personal story and lived experiences add passion and purpose to what we do – and it’s unique to us. No-one else has had *exactly* the same life and experiences as you have.

Some people really lean into this, whereas others shy away from it. I agree, there’s some (many) instances where your customer doesn’t want to know about you and what you do, but the more ethical consumer might actually have a great interest in your motivations and desires.

But terroir also holds other lessons; “what is best for one region may not be ideal for another.” Once size does not fit all, and as a business it’s important to recognise where you can’t help, what you can’t do and where you don’t want to be.

So perhaps when you’re looking your business or great idea – and how to describe what it is, why you created it and what you want it to achieve – you should first sit down and consider a glass of wine and it’s long journey from a vine to your glass.

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