With a lifetime of experience and love for simulation games, especially those involving farming, I rolled up my sleeves to try my hand at running my own vineyard. Terroir is a beautiful, low-poly tycoon game built around one of my favorite things: Wine. You begin your simulation with three tiles to your name: A field in which to grow grapes, a lake to help keep your vines pest-free, and an estate in which you process your wines. Music and sound effects drifted lazily from my speakers as I bought up additional vineyard tiles, planted grapes, and proceeded to drive my fledgling estate nose-first into bankruptcy.
This is not Story of Seasons or Stardew Valley, where rapid expansion is the key to success, in fact, expansion can quickly and easily result in ruin. Terroir is definitely a tycoon game, and has mechanics different from the infamous farming sim games. The most glaringly obvious being that burying land, buildings and equipment is not a one-time investment, free to use until the end of days. Everything within Terroir has not only a purchase cost, but maintenance and/or use costs. Sure, planting a second field right away allows you to quickly double the number of wine bottles you can put out, but you have to pay your workers to prune back the vines, to maintain the land, to use the equipment, and if you overextend, those costs can be crippling, a slow, constant drain on your finances.
I was feeling quite confident, having turned out several bottles of five star wine, and with $175,000 in the bank, I decided to upgrade my estate so that I could have access to some additional winemaking tools, such as the traditional crusher, as opposed to the Pigeage, and the ability to age my wine inside a stainless steel vat, instead of using only oak barrels. I proudly dropped my $100,000 and watched my estate spring up into a truly respectable looking building… only to find that my failure to read the fine print meant that I needed to pay an additional $100,000 each in order to unlock my desired tools. Not only that, the increased costs of my upgraded estate combined with poor returns on a horrible batch of wine, caused by an overly hot and dry growing season, swiftly drove me into bankruptcy. A hard lesson learned, and with the knowledge of how to craft the perfect five star bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon according to a four star critic, my next endeavor would be even more fruitful. (6, 3,6, 5 by the way. You’re welcome)
One thing which did surprise me was how little information you’re provided within the game. While there are basic descriptions around the kinds of grapes you can plant and the game features a voiced beginner’s guide as well as a robust text tutorial about the controls of the game itself, it gives you shockingly little information about how to make good wine. This makes your first few times playing the game a true test of trial and error, which creates an incredibly steep learning curve. You find out what makes a good wine only after you have grown and harvested the grapes, processed and bottle them, and arranged for critics to review your wine. You’re given a rating on a five star scale, and one single tip as to how to make your wine better next time. If your acidity is too high, great. Maybe next time you’ll get that coveted five star rating!
Of course, if your acidity is too high and your tannins are too low, you won’t find out that second bit until you’ve finished a new batch of wine the following year and sent that out for tasting. You are also pretty continually tweaking your formulas, because while your formula may have received a five star rating last year, that rating was given by a two star wine critic, and you have now caught the attention of a batch of three star critics who will judge you more harshly.
Getting a perfect five star rating also assumes that you were able to grow your grapes to perfection, a feat which is only possible when the weather decides to cooperate. Too much sun and too little rain means that your grapes will be overly ripe, with basically no acidity and far too much sweetness, tannins and body. While you can overcome some of these problems during processing (pressing almost all of your juice can do wonders for getting that acidity level back up) some elements are more difficult to overcome, and I experienced several grow seasons without a single drop of rain.
The weather, and your skill a canopy management, the art of controlling the growth of leaves in order to grow your grapes to the perfect level of ripeness, can also change the final rating of your wine, adding bonuses or reductions to the bottle, regardless of how much care you put into processing your grapes. If your grapes have sun damage, your final product will lose one star from its rating, whereas perfectly tended grapes can actually receive an extra star. Even more frustrating, if your vines are suffering from fungus or parasites, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it; you simply have to wait and hope that the weather dries out, in the case of fungus, or simply carry on, in the case of parasites. This left me yearning for some way to intervene, some way to save my precious vineyard… but alas, I simply had to sit and wait.
There isn’t a whole lot to do month to month in this game. Time marches steadily on in a month-by-month pace. You sit ready to clip back growth between February and August, then there’s a flurry of processing in the months following, but all you have to do is remember to stop aging your wine after that, so wine competitions, which occur every four years, are a welcome distraction. Unfortunately, all of the judging happens off screen, and you will be sent a list of winning wines after the competition is over, even if you did not participate. Entering a winning bottle will add a delightful bonus to the selling price of that particular type and vintage, as well as providing a lovely boost to your prestige. Prestige is required to unlock upgrades, catch the attention of higher started critics, and generally increase the fame and fortune of your vineyard.
Terroir is challenging. Information is doled out in small doses, and apparently there isn’t a single book on winemaking anywhere on your glorious estate that will so much as give you a hint as to the right balance for a new type of wine. A great year can net you hundreds of thousands of dollars, but a bad year can cost you just as much. If the weather is somehow not enough randomness for you, you can also try your luck at a Chance and Circumstance card, once you have achieved enough five star ratings. Upon picking one of these cards, you’re presented with a narrated text description of a random event which can have positive or negative outcomes… though there seem to be far more negative than positive ones, in my experience. If you hate randomness or are not the type who enjoys learning from failure, and believe me, you will fail at this game time and time again, then this is probably not a good fit for you.
All that said, success in Terroir is incredibly rewarding, largely because of the sheer challenge of conquering its innate randomness. The satisfaction of figuring out how to create the perfect bottle of wine, the pride of being named the best wine of the year, watching your prestige grow and your territory expand, and the cautious necessity of keeping plenty of cash in your coffers becomes all the more potent because you know that, any given year, fate could turn against you and you could very well lose it all. Knowing the winning formulas alone aren’t enough, just as in real life, the weather and the world at large may turn against you, causing even the best laid plans to go bust. I was also surprised by just how much insight I gained into the winemaking process through Terroir, and how much more I appreciated the glasses of red I sipped while playing.
Terroir is an incredibly challenging game which incorporates the strategy, farm simulation, and tycoon genres. The lovely low-poly graphics and the atmospheric soundtrack make it easy to get lost in this world, especially as there's often not much to do other than wait for the weather to change. Much of the challenge comes from the randomness of the weather, so if you don't mind failing a time or twenty, you will find a great challenge in Terroir, and might even come to a greater appreciation of a good bottle of wine.