Terroir and Localism. What’s in it for You?

So, what is the terrôir of your adventure? Does it matter? What about the locals. Who are they? Do they matter?

Terrôir is a French term that loosely relates to a “sense of place” and is usually applied to wine. In particular it applies to the unique combination of soil, aspect, sunshine and general climate that can potentially give an individual wine a distinct flavour.

Terrôir is in many ways a partner to localism.

Localism is the preference for produce or services from within one’s own region, or where you presently find yourself. Sometimes the decision to purchase local is made because of environmental concerns over the carbon cost of shipping food vast distances, while in other cases it has more to do with maintaining a healthy local economy and community.

But can either of these concepts, terrôir in particular, be extended beyond food and wine? I think so.

What Is the Best River Trip?

I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked this over the years. What is the best river to go rafting?

And what do I say?

All of them, especially the one you are presently on.

Each river has its own distinct terrôir. That combination of light, of sunshine, of the base rock material, of gradient, of water clarity, of rapid difficulty. What cloaks the banks? Are you rafting through a wilderness, farmland or semi built up area? Are there cultural nuances at play that underpin the river experience in some way?

All these factors, and more, combine to create a distinct terrôir for each river trip.

But There Is Something Missing

But even with all that distinct terrôir there is still something missing.

What is missing is the element of localism.

It is the combination of these two concepts that creates truly unique businesses, communities, produce, services and adventures.

There is no place for a McDonald’s style approach when as a business you are going down the road of terrôir and localism. Rather what you are trying to do as a business owner is craft experiences and ways of doing things that fit your landscape and your community. Ways of doing things that as much as possible not only work in harmony with that landscape, but are instead so deeply entwined with that land that what you provide is an expression of it.

We try to recognise this at River Valley, but the “dark side” is ever present. The pressure is on to conform, and in some areas we must. Health and Safety, central government and local body rules and regulations.

Rules and regulations and “Best Practice” that would if allowed to run their course, ensure a menu of blandness – of McDonalds. We would be just another adventure tourism business.

There is Excitement in Not Being “Made”

What excites me most about these concepts is that they cannot be “made”. You cannot create terrôir . Instead it creates you, and all you must do is observe, to listen, to take the time to let your surroundings talk to you and then express that character.

The same holds with localism. This not a concept that can be prescribed from “outside”. Instead it is saying that what is right here is worth at the very least preserving, and better still helping it regenerate.

Terrôir and localism, certainly worth getting out of bed for each morning.

So, What’s in it for You, with this Terrôir and Localism Stuff?

In a world where uniformity and blandness are increasingly valued as the way to do things, you, as a traveller or tourist, could dare to explore the edges. By taking the time to immerse yourself in what is truly local, in what makes each interaction unique, you can gain a richness of experience not otherwise possible.

I’ll finish here with a quote from Chris Perley, a blogger and affiliated researcher with Otago University’s Centre for Sustainability. Chris often writes thoughtful blog posts on society and our interactions with landscapes.

“Terroir is more than just the biophysical differentiation of place. You cannot separate the culture of seeing, feeling, belonging and doing from the place. You cannot reduce life to a machine without losing what it is to be.”

Sums it up nicely.

Brian Megaw

The Whanganui River, New Zealand.  Each river has its own distinct terrôir.

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