Terroir vs terroir: an Étude comparison
We are fascinated by terroir. Not simply from a ‘sounds very romantic and fascinating’ perspective, but in the literal, tangible way that it affects flavour in the glass.
As we have gone about our mission of separately harvesting, distilling and maturing pure sugar cane juice from the individual farms — and specifically the precise terroirs within each farm — we are beginning to come to an understanding of the different ways the terroirs inflect themselves in our spirit.
Take Lake Antoine, for instance, in the north of the island. The crater lake of an extinct volcano, with sugar cane planted on both upper and lower slopes. The terroirs are contiguous; it isn’t even a case of ‘a stone’s throw away from each other’, yet the spirit from each one — both distilled from the same cane variety, Purple Tall Boy — is utterly distinct. Steep, free-draining slopes versus the flatter, wetter conditions lower down. Not rocket science; simply gardening and basic meteorology. But the difference in flavour is there for all to taste.
The point of releasing Études from different Single Farm Origins and terroirs is precisely so that drinkers can compare and contrast our ‘studies’ in rum and uncover for themselves their idiosyncrasies. Ultimately, in just a few years, these single terroirs will be the building blocks that come together for our most complex cuvées. In the meantime they express the purity of a single place; one farm, one terroir, matured in oak casks.
Their individual flavours are for connoisseurs to discover, but a comparison of two Étude farms — Pearls and New Bacolet — will prove a useful starting point for exploration.
Pearls is virtually our ‘home farm’. You can see the distillery from it, on the east coast of Grenada and slightly to the north. The land here is very flat; an expansive, water-retaining plain draining north into the Moya river.
New Bacolet is to the south, where the island’s coast begins to curve round westward. Like Pearls — indeed like almost all of our farms — it is a relatively coastal terroir, but here we are further inland. Perched on the northern side of a valley the cane grows on the south-facing slopes, unlike that of its sister farm, Old Bacolet, which straddles flatter, wetter ground. In fact New Bacolet is so steep that soil erosion and the operation of agricultural machinery can be real challenges.
What does this mean for the terroirs?
Although the weather conditions of New Bacolet, in the south, tend to be rainier overall than the more northern Pearls, by dint of their vastly different aspects, New Bacolet is a far drier terroir. Pearls tends to hold water, where the natural slope of New Bacolet means rain runs off and drains away quickly. Indeed New Bacolet is dependent on that extra rainfall, or the sharpness of its aspect could cause the sugar cane pronounced water stress.
PEARLS AFTER HEAVY RAIN
What of the soil?
As you might expect, given the conditions, Pearls sits mostly on a heavy, water-retentive clay. It’s so effective at holding its drink that at times of heavy rainfall the cane can be a little too water-saturated. But that natural ‘tank’ pays dividends during the dry season, when the cane draws water from the clay’s natural reserves.
Most intriguingly — and pertinently to the new Pearls Étude — there is a striking red bank of iron-rich laterite running through one of Pearls’ terroirs — Flats — between mangrove and water meadow. Lighter than the clay soil that surrounds it; better draining; less liable to waterlog. It is from this outstanding terroir that we harvested the cane which has become our Étude.
Upper Combe, steepest of the terroirs of New Bacolet, was the provenance of our other initial Étude. Another especially striking terroir, since the cane field forms a natural amphitheatre carved out of dense forest. The sun-baked slope with its clay loam soil is one of the fastest-drying of all our Grenadian terroirs; a lighter, shallower soil than that of Pearls even before the aspect is considered.
And the cane itself?
To date we have discovered that the primary influence on the flavour of our rum is terroir, rather than variety. However there are certainly differences between the cane used in each of these Études.
Pearls was distilled from Yellow Lady. Rare, elegant, free-trashing, and very popular with our distilling team. Sadly, despite its quality, it has proven ill-adapted to Grenada, being particularly susceptible to aphids, and therefore one we will no longer be planting. A variety to discover and treasure whilst you still can.
By contrast, Lacalome Red, planted at New Bacolet, has been our most successful cane. Sucrose-rich and, critically, hardy, it can thrive even in the rugged hillside conditions afforded by Upper Combe.
LA CALOME RED
A STUDY IN PROVENANCE
Despite identical fermentation and distillation — both in our ‘Adam’ pot still with its iconic double retort — the differences between each Étude are marked, and were remarked upon in Paris. Some loved the elegance and balance of New Bacolet, whilst others championed the intensity and depth of Pearls.
Despite Caribbean maturation in a profile of premium oak, what is most notable about each Étude is the clarity, intensity and persistence we still find in the flavour of the cane spirit itself. And of course the key differences therein derive from each Étude’s individual terroir.
Aspect, soil, rainfall, location. These might be more alien concepts to the rum lover than gleaming stills, oak casks and fermentation vessels. But we believe — and are now tasting — that they are the building blocks of true identity and individuality of flavour. When you have a chance to compare and contrast the Études from these two singular farms, we think you will make the same discovery.
Renegade Rum Distillery
Meadows Lane, Conference,
St. Andrews, Grenada, West Indies
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