The notion of terroir is central to the vineyards of most of Europe, with France's appellation system, for example, founded on it. The country's top wines, bearing grand cru and premier cru monikers, are deemed to come from the best sites, the number of which rarely changes. Terroir is also central to critical differences between Old World and New World practices and philosophies. A combination of the effects of soil, topography, and macro- and microclimate makes up what is known as terroir, a French word that has not been precisely translated into other languages but adopted into them. The concept is that every small plot (and, in some cases, large ones) produces wines with particular and unique characteristics. Hundreds of years ago, terroir was 'defined' by monks in Burgundy who had the time and knowledge to carefully document individual sites, as in walled vineyard Clos de Vougeot, where 50 hectares are divided into 80 plots. They could observe how certain plots consistently yielded distinct wines. The New World, on the other hand, has tended to dismiss the idea, happy to blend wines from different vineyards or even regions and to trumpet the effects of new technologies and winemaking practices ahead of the qualities of individual plots. New World producers have also tried to 'copy' Old World wines, claiming for instance they are 'making Australia's equivalent to Corton-Charlemagne' or that 'New Zealand sauvignon blanc has given the Loire a run for its money'. The implication is that great wines from one region can be reproduced in another and sold at similarly high prices. In other words, demeaning terroir is a commercial decision. There are signs, however, this mentality is changing. Owners and winemakers now talk about producing international-standard wines, not copy-cats. 'We are not trying to make French wine in California,' says master of wine Mark de Vere, roving ambassador for Robert Mondavi Winery. 'We are passionate about being in California. We want our wines to taste of where they come from.' Perhaps the New World simply hasn't yet had time to discover its best sites and the best grapes to grow on them. Mark Maxwell, of the Maxwell winery in Australia's McLaren Vale, confirms chardonnay has been seriously planted in the region for less than 20 years. Even at the remarkable Leeuwin Estate in Western Australia, founder and owner Denis Horgan confesses the winery had to pull up a block of shiraz because it found one particular site was far more suited to sauvignon blanc and, although it got its top-notch Art Series chardonnay 'right' from the start, experimentation continues on the Art Series cabernet sauvignon. Australian wine writer James Halliday has com-mented on the compelling similarities between the wines at Yarra Valley's long-established Yeringberg winery made by current owner Guill de Pury and those of his late father. Any similarities are apparently entirely unintentional and, further, the vineyards were replanted between the father and son eras. The effects of terroir, peut-etre?