February 13, 2019


What is a Terroir?

A terroir is a French word to define a natural area determined by its agricultural specialty. It doesn’t have an exact translation in other languages, but the term is closely linked to the quality and geographical specificity of a product. The notion of terroir covers the soil composition and quality, the climate with the temperatures, precipitations and humidity all year around, which transmits different characteristics to the products produced in this environment.

The terroir is sometimes mistook with “territory” (territoire in French). One territory can group several terroirs, that can be from the size of a whole region to a very small plot (especially for vineyards, the wine sector being a sector where the terroir is very important).

Yet, a terroir isn’t just about natural environment, it takes into account two other components: the natural system and the human work using this system. If the traditions in the population of this particular geographic area differs, the terroir will differ too.  This cultural dimension also reflects the society and the history of people living here. Agricultural products from the area are processed by its population, who has the knowledge, the know-how transmitted and improved generations after generations. Those products are the symbol of the terroir as it is a representation of the geographical conditions, the culture of the population and its history [1].

This terroir notion is usually associated with the wine and cheese products. It has its particular importance in the wine sector, where a plot can differ from another close one, due to the soil composition, that has a great importance as it gives different specificities to the wine. 


PineappleIn the fruit industry, the notion of terroir is less known, but it doesn’t mean that it has no impact on the product. For example, the Queen Victoria pineapple, recognized as one of the best in the world, is cultivated in the Reunion Island, Mauritius, Madagascar and South Africa [2]. Due to the different growing environments, the quality of the fruit will varies according to the area. In 2006, the Queen Victoria pineapple from the Reunion island got the official sign of Red Label, proof of superior quality compared to similar products [3]. This is due to the reunion of good agricultural practices and optimal climate.pineapple field






AOC, DOP, IGP… denominations that reflect the terroir

The notion of terroir is the foundation of the denominations AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlee), PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication)[4]. The first historical record of an origin protection for a product goes back to 1824, where a French law said that the attribution of a location other than the one the product has been made is punishable. It was almost exclusively to protect the different wines at the time [5]. It gained in popularity with cheeses too. With time, the regulation became more and more strict and adapted to various kind of products, before being adopted to the whole Europe. Since 2009, the protected denominations are used worldwide, but only for the wines and spirits sector for now [6].


AOC logoThe AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee – in French) is a French label, originally created for wine [7], that gives a quality guarantee about the origin of the product from a terroir and showcases a know-how. It allows the producer to protect himself against copies. The AOC has strict specifications about the whole process, from the farm to the final product.


AOP logoThe PDO (AOP – Appellation d’Origine Protegee – in French) is an European label that has been created in 1992 in order to extend the concept of the French AOP at a European level and so protect the denomination of a product. It certifies that the production, the transformation process and the formulation has been done in a delimited geographic area, and with a recognized and respected know-how. The specification are generally less strict than the AOC one.  


IGP logoThe PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) is also a European label created in 1992, designed to guarantee a geographical origin of the raw material production. The difference with the AOP is that all the processing stages don’t necessary have to be done in the same geographical area [8].



In the fruit sector, the terroir provides a quality and differentiating guarantee. In 2016, 45 PDO were attributed to fruits, vegetables and products processed from it like olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Concerning the fruits exclusively, only 8 products obtained the AOC appellation in France today [9]. You can find :

limousine apple
  • The Chasselas de Moissac white grape
  • The Ardeche chestnut
  • The fig of Sollies
  • The Ventoux muscat black grape
  • The Grenoble nut
  • The Perigord nut
  • The Limousin apple
  • The Roussillon red apricot


Those denominations are a guarantee of quality. It enables the preservation of the traditional production and processing methods, keeping and improving the knowledge from the previous generations, and so the authenticity of the taste of the products. 



[1] Cartier S., 2004 - Terroirs en nuances. STRATES : materiaux pour la recherche en sciences sociales. Available on :  https://journals.openedition.org/strates/396. [consulted the 12/09/20018]

[2] Victoria or Queen pineapple. Available on: http://gourmetpedia.net/. [consulted the 12/09/2018]

[3] L’ananas Label Rouge de la Reunion : petit mais si parfume ! Available on : http://agriculture.gouv.fr. [consulted the 12/09/2018

[4] AOP – AOC. Available on: https://www.inao.gouv.fr. [consulted the 13/09/2018]

[5] La longue geste des Appellations d’Origine Controlee. Available on : https://www.canalacademie.com. [Consulted the 26/09/2018]

[6] Histoire des appellations d’origine protégées. Available on : https://www.originfood.info.  [Consulted the 26/09/2018]

[7] F. Alavoine Mornas, C. Camman, 1998 - Fruits et légumes de terroir : des producteurs face aux attentes des consommateurs et des distributeurs. Ingénieries - E A T, IRSTEA édition 1998, p. 47 - p. 59.

[8] Terroir et qualite : les differences entre AOC, AOP and IGP. Available on : http://gourmandisesansfrontieres.fr [consulted the 21/09/2018]

[9] Produits regionaux AOP-AOC. Available on : http://www.produits-regionaux-aop-aoc.fr.  [consulted the 21/09/2018]