The Terroir Rye Project was Wigle Whiskey’s two-year project to better understand the influence of agriculture and terroir on whiskey. Distillers always love to talk about the influence of their stills and their barrels on flavor, but Meredith Grelli, with her husband, Alex, is among the few producers bringing the conversation back to the land—to before the grain is harvested. —Wayne Curtis
SevenFifty Daily: Tell us about your project.
Meredith Grelli: We finished up a two-year project this year that we called the Terroir Rye Project. It was an investigation into the relationship between geography and flavor in whiskey. We sourced rye grain from five distinct geographic regions in the United States and Canada and produced five distinct batches using a standardized mash bill, fermentation, distillation, and barreling regimen. We sent off samples from each batch for chemical analysis by gas chromatography at multiple points throughout the experiment. The final samples were collected and sent for analysis after each whiskey had completed two years of aging.
Is there a particular issue that you’re trying to address?
We’ve gone from a country of tens of thousands of distilleries producing regionally distinct spirits to a relatively boring and consolidated whiskey landscape. Large-scale distilleries tend to source grain from bulk grain suppliers to create their signature spirits. Using grain from large suppliers creates a consistent product but eliminates regional flavors.
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Who in the field inspires you?
I’m really inspired by families and individuals who have sustained their companies and curiosity for decades. Oftentimes, I think we celebrate new over sustained exploration, which can be much more challenging. I find inspiration for this kind of resolve and sustained evolution in a wide variety of partners and colleagues—in our coopers in Louisville, who have reimagined their craft and business through industry booms and busts; in our farmers, who come up with new distribution models and agricultural products to sustain themselves every year; in our bar, restaurant, and hotel partners, who often have to reinvent themselves every five to seven years; and in journalists, who in recent years have had to reconceptualize what it means to [be] in their profession.
What was the biggest lesson you’ve learned from this so far?
I’ve learned to take the long view and keep at it—or as T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” I’ve learned that:
“There will be time …
for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions …”
What’s been your biggest achievement thus far?
I’m proud that we have grown from a company of five family members, who really had no clue what we were getting into, to an organization of more than 100 remarkable team members who bring to life a very broad range of products—all driven by an unsinkable curiosity, an intense focus on quality, and a commitment to contributing positively to the agricultural, economic, and social systems of which we are a part.
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What’s your favorite thing to drink?
I love exploring new categories and regions of spirits, wines, and beers with my husband, Alex, who is always able to stoke some new beverage curiosity. He’s like my beverage sherpa—always introducing me to new liquid worlds.
Which three Instagram accounts do you follow most?
Yikes—I’ll probably be one of the last subscribers to newspapers and magazines. I’m an early adopter in the world of beverages, but I’m a real Luddite when it comes to the way I take in the world. On the best days, the in-between hours are bursting with real live human interaction and a run or a walk in the woods without any electronics at all!
Read more about Alex and Meredith Grelli: Exploring the Roots of Regionally Distinct Spirits.
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Wayne Curtis is the author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails and has written frequently about spirits for The Atlantic, Imbibe Magazine, Punch, The Daily Beast, and Garden & Gun, among others.