Questions around the notion of terroir

Is the concept of "terroir" in Québec clearly defined?

There is no real definition of the concept of "terroir" in Québec. The concept of terroir is often used without distinction for niche products, local and regional products, craft, farm and traditional products, etc.

In Québec and Europe, the concept of terroir has no special protection, that is, in theory, anyone can use this term to identify their products. People believe that terroir refers more to a category of products (mentioned above).

In France, where the concept of terroir is well established, the definition has evolved over time. After one year of work and discussions between researchers, the stakeholders involved and the Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité (INAO), the French equivalent of the CARTV, a multidisciplinary working group recently provided the following definition:

"A terroir is a delimited geographical area where a human community develops collective knowledge over time regarding production, based on a system of interaction between a physical and natural environment and a set of human factors. The socio-technical approaches involved demonstrate originality, impart typicity and develop a reputation for a product originating from that geographical region." Vincent, E., Flutet, E., Nairaud, D. (2008) « aoc et aop : un système de reconnaissance des terroirs au service du développement durable », Géosciences, numéro 7/8, mars 2008, INAO.

This definition of terroir includes more than characteristics of the natural environment (climate, soil, landscape, vegetation, etc.), since it refers to human activity (practices, know-how, etc.). Important concepts such as history, collective ownership and interactions are also to be considered. It is also understood that a terroir’s typicity is reflected in a product; the definition of "terroir" only has meaning with reference to a product whose characteristics are believed to depend on that terroir. This definition refers to the "appellation d’origine contrôlée" (controlled protected designation of origin).

In Québec, a working group on reserved designations and terroir products provided the following definition of "terroir":

"A product that comes from – or whose main components come from – a defined, homogeneous territory whose characteristics, which significantly differ from similar products, are based on the specificity of this territory. Its characteristics depend on both the distinctive features of the environment, such as geology, climate, terrain, culture, history, and the traditional and emerging knowledge and know-how, and its inhabitants." Groupe de travail sur les appellations réservées et les produits du terroir, appelé Rapport Desjardins, 2003.

What are the criteria to determine whether or not a product should be labelled "terroir"? Are the criteria primarily geographic?

A terroir product cannot be labelled as such. The only way to protect this term would be to authorize it as an added-value claim, that is, recognize a definition and specific criteria in a regulation, and only authorize its use for products certified according to this regulation. It is therefore understood that the definition and criteria must be consensual, whereas the concept is vague and changing. This seems to be problematic.

The Act Respecting Reserved Designations and Added-Value Claims, which governs reserved designations in Québec, provides for a designation category relating to the link with a terroir, including designations of origin (DO) and protected geographical indications (PGI). These designations, which are described as territorial designations, propose products from specific defined regions. The products must demonstrate that they have particular characteristics associated with the regions in accordance with the aforementioned definitions.

It is important to point out that what defines the terroir is based on the criteria of the geographic area, but they can be both natural (soil, climate, etc.) and human criteria (know-how, tradition, etc.).

Does the concept of "appellation contrôlée" (protected designation) include the notion of terroir?

The term "appellation contrôlée" (protected designation) is not used in Québec; instead, the term "reserved designation" is used to cover all the categories set out in the Act Respecting Reserved Designations and Added-Value Claims. The notion of terroir specifically refers to DO and PGI designations for which products have characteristics associated with their regions (their terroir). Although sometimes considered terroir products, the other designation categories do not refer to geographic specificity or terroir, but rather a tradition, or a manufacturing or production method.

Organic products, for example, are not all terroir products. They highlight another characteristic, namely, a more environmentally friendly production method.

Why did the MAPAQ legislate the Regulation respecting reserved designations? Is this due to abuses or excesses?

Coming into force on August 5, the Regulation respecting reserved designations is an update of the previous regulation. It makes the category of specificity designations more flexible by allowing non-traditional products that were previously excluded.

Abuses or excesses have not really been observed. The reserved designations and added-value claims regulation makes it possible to promote authentic products while protecting their names. The new regulation is the result of a desire to simplify access to reserved designations for products whose promoters may wish to use designations. It provides a tool to structure this developing sector.

Is the notion of terroir sometimes a misleading marketing tool and an effective selling point?

The concept of terroir is definitely sometimes overused or exaggerated. As we have just seen, the problem in Québec is that the term "terroir" is not protected and often refers to niche or regional products. This term is thus often used to promote products, and consumers sometimes get confused.

The concept of a product’s provenance is also sometimes confused with that of terroir. When a product comes from a particular region (e.g., The Laurentians), it does not necessarily have the specific characteristics of that region’s terroir!

Do websites such as or and the Association de l’Agrotourisme et du Tourisme Gourmand du Québec provide reliable information on the subject? Are they trustworthy?

These websites have their own definition of terroir and use it as they see fit, since the term is not protected. Consumers may or may not trust the website’s definition, and then decide whether or not to buy their products. These websites use this term in its very broad sense, as we mentioned previously.

An interesting link that discusses the concept of terroir is found on the Terroirs Québec website:

What guarantees or labels can consumers trust to ensure a certain quality and authenticity?

The reserved designations officially recognized by the Minister are guarantees of authenticity. Their specifications manuals demonstrate the specific characteristics of products and the conditions under which they may use the designations. Designation products are thus protected and recognized for their specific characteristics.

For example, Charlevoix lamb is a product that was developed in Charlevoix by adapting to regional conditions. Corn has therefore been excluded from feed, since very little corn grows in that region. Producers adapted to this constraint and developed a different product associated with its terroir. Its authenticity therefore relies on the fact that the product has adapted to its terroir’s human and natural characteristics, which the designation recognizes.

Note: The purpose of reserved designations is to protect and ensure the authenticity of products and designations that promote them. This is to protect product denominations when they cannot be protected under the Trade-marks Act. However, these designations do not guarantee the quality of products as such, but rather the authenticity of the products’ characteristics.

These officially recognized products are certified, which ensures that they comply with the specifications manuals. Only these products have the right to display the designation on their labels. As in the case of the officially recognized organic designation and Charlevoix lamb, consumers can rely on reserved designations to ensure the authenticity of products they purchase with regards to their denominations. In addition, they are monitored by a CARTV inspector.


Questions around the notion of terroir