Ask Jim Bernau, former Atkinson student and founder and owner of Willamette Valley Vineyards, about the smashing success of his wines and you will likely get a short lesson on language and ecology; he’ll tell you, “It’s all thanks to the wine’s terroir.’

French for “of the earth,” terroir (teh-wa) describes the unique combination of interrelated factors affecting the grape’s growth: starting with slope, it includes orientation to the sun, elevation, microclimate, wind velocity and soil. While vintners must adapt to those factors outside of their control, they can exert some influence over a few key components: namely, the soil and the millions of beneficial creatures thriving among the vine’s roots.

“From fungi to insects, these tiny creatures are the most amazing natural farmers,” explains Bernau. They live in a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the vines. The fruit takes on the character of the soil in which it grows, enhancing aroma and flavor. Consumers enjoy that uniqueness, that ‘personality.’ In this context, appreciating wine tickles the intellect as much as the taste buds.”