In wine country, forest bathing could be the key to terroir

If you’ve ever wondered how terroir impacts what you taste in your glass, shinrin yoku can offer some understanding. More commonly known in the United States as forest baths, these meditative, guided walks date back to the 1980s, when Japanese doctors sent their overworked patients to local forests to reconnect with nature. Studies have found participants to have health benefits, such as lower blood pressure and improved immune response.

Forest bathing encourages you to use all five senses to become aware of the natural world around you. When practiced at a vineyard, it can connect you to the land and influence how you taste the wine produced there, according to Jenny Harrow-Keeler, who leads Forest Bathing Experiences in Sonoma County.

A group at Zephyr Farms Vineyard / Photo by Red Car Wine

The Certified Nature Therapy Guide explains that you may encounter elements of forest bathing in a vineyard while sipping wine produced there, such as the smell of redwoods or a crisp breeze on your cheek.

“Forest bathing and wine tasting are such a complementary practice,” she says. “Forest bathing enhances wine, and wine enhances your experience of the land. The circle is complete.

A typical forest bathing session at a vineyard begins with introductions and an explanation of what to expect. Then the guide invites participants to complete an activity, such as looking at moving objects or finding a space that resonates with you. After a set period of time, usually 10-15 minutes, participants gather at a designated location to share their experiences. Depending on the length of the session, there can be up to six activities.

The vineyards of Gran Brazan offer forest-soaked wine country
Vineyards at Gran Bazan Winery / Photo by Andres Rodino

Veronika Knobová, a certified guide who co-founded Shinrin Yoku United along with fellow certified guide Joan Roney, explains that the goal is to “awaken the senses” and prepare attendees for the wine tasting at the end. On his walks through European vineyards, Knobová ends by passing around a glass of wine and asking each participant to share their final thoughts. Then she pours the wine into the ground and the winemaker pours tastes from several of their vintages.

When the participants take that first sip after a forest bath, Knobová hears a lot of surprise.

“They comment on how much more intense the sensations are,” she says. “Even people who have tried the wine before saying being in the vineyard have changed their perception of it.”

“Forest bathing enhances wine, and wine enhances your experience of the land. The circle is complete. —Jenny Harrow-Keeler

Guidebooks say forest bathing can have a profound effect on wine. It opens the senses. Participants take the time to really see the vineyard, smell it, hear its sounds, feel its textures, and maybe even taste it in the air or by popping a grape in their mouth. These sensory experiences open the door to understanding the terroir.

Portrait of Jenny Harlow-Keeler who leads forest bathing wine country tours
Jenny Harlow-Keeler / Morgan Shidler Photography

“Forest bathing is absolutely tied to the terroir,” says Andrés Rodiño, who guides visitors through Spain’s Albariño-producing vineyards through his slow travel company, Rooteiro. “The climate, the granitic soil, the environment and the way the harvest is carried out are important factors when producing Albariño wine.”

Rodiño adds that by guiding people through a vineyard, they begin to really appreciate old vines. They slow down and relax. Therefore, when they taste the Albariño, it tastes fresher and their palate picks up flavors directly related to what they have just experienced in the vineyard.

Want to try it for yourself? Harrow-Keeler has some simple tips you can try the next time you visit a winery.

“I would invite people to pick a moment, take a few breaths, and feel their feet on the ground,” she says. “When you are punished, start noticing the sounds and smells. Stick out your tongue and taste the air. Engage all of your senses. Even five minutes would have a huge impact on how you experience wine.

Posted on March 10, 2022

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