2015 Terroir Report
For wine connoisseurs, the term “terroir” is as fundamental as “body,” “bouquet” and “finish.” But is it really applicable to whisky? Defined as “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including the soil, climate and topography” (and depending on who you talk to) the word “terroir” does have some crossover when it comes to whisky production.
As with wine, the climate, water, soil and especially the regional practices involved in making whisky have significant bearing on the end product. Shelter Point’s founder and owner, Patrick Evans, is a third-generation farmer whose family members were turn-of-the-century pioneers in the Comox Valley. Even before purchasing the property, he knew that the farm’s Oyster River location had a diverse microclimate.
So what is Patrick’s take on the terroir now?
Variable stuff: it’s never one thing with farming. It’s a combination of timing, weather, and cultural timing practices. You can get your crop planted early and if the rains come when they are supposed to, everything is ok. Last summer, there was a long dry summer so when the barley wanted a bit of water, it didn’t get it. So there were more kernels per stalk but they were smaller and tighter together. That’s going to change the starches. Timeliness of rain is huge. When the grain is at the milk stage, and it gets a little drink of water, the kernels will be huge and amazing for grinding and mashing.
We have five fields that each have slightly different soils. Large scale commercial farms have thousands of acres and all the grain is mixed together for a consistent end product—that’s how your Quaker cereal is always the same and how Canadian Club or Crown Royal can taste exactly the same year after year. We only have so many fields and they will be different every year, so we have to work with that.
Knowing your soil gives you a balanced plant, which gives you a balanced cereal. The care that we take produces a better quality yield than the mega growers—but we have to work with it and care for it in the warehouse and be patient. Even the warehouse is not consistent. It’s affected by the salt air, ocean breeze and distinct seasons so, again, it comes back to being patient. The water is the big factor now. It’s a very soft water that is filtered by the sand and gravel under the farm so it doesn’t need to be treated before going into the boilers. It’s important to point out that the water that is used to cut the whisky from cask strength to 46% is not distilled, boiled or treated. That water has the characteristics of that natural source.