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Terroir: The Indelible Feeling of a Place


The unique and the singular are fundamental ingredients within our possibilities of knowing the world.

There will be no unique name, not even the name of Being. It must be conceived without nostalgia; that is, it must be conceived outside the myth of the purely maternal or paternal language belonging to the lost fatherland of thought. On the contrary, we must affirm it —in the sense that Nietzsche brings affirmation into play—with certain laughter and certain dance.

Jacques Derrida, “Differance”

Among many other effects, globalization has pushed towards the dissolution of borders, both cultural and commercial. Unlike any other moment in history, the current connectivity allows us to relate to a broad span of cultural manifestations from around the world. No matter where we find ourselves, we can listen to radio stations from Brazil or France, read the London newspaper, and even pay virtual visits to museums located thousands of miles from us.

And while this socioeconomic process has some beneficial aspects —like opening valuable data that was kept unfairly reserved for a handful—, it also entails significant risks, like turning the world into a homogenous territory where the possibility for difference could cease to exist.

Thanks to the existence of terroirs ––tangible territories defined solely by their singularities and uniqueness–– there are good reasons to sense that this threat will not shape humankind’s destiny. This concept ––of French origin–– is used in cuisine to define the many factors that, by converging in a determined region, assemble a matchless result.

The concept of terroir applies mainly to the origin of grapes sowed for the purpose of viticulture, but extends also to cocoa and certain types of wheat, among other products. The so-called “Designation of Origin” —reserved for items like champagne or tequila, which can only hold the distinction when coming from a specific region— is based on this notion.

Although a literal translation is impossible ––because it is one of those expressions where centuries and centuries of history and cultural practices converge­­–– a terroir accepts being translated as “the feeling of a place”.

As if it were a kaleidoscope, when we catch a glimpse of the concept of terroir we barely discern the cultural, agricultural or geographical whirlwind absorbed by the crops of a grape or a coffee bean. That feeling of a place acts as a powerful synthesis that acquires its full meaning only when it explodes in our appetites.

In Derrida’s theory, the différance refers to that which language is unable to symbolize because it overflows with representation. “The sign represents the present in its absence. […] The sign would hence be, the differed presence”, wrote the Algerian philosopher. And perhaps it is precisely in the impossibility of knowing something through reason –only accessible through sensuality–, where the concept of terroir lies: a territory that holds uniqueness as a basic requirement for its own existence.

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