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Posted: Thursday, 18 July 2019 15:55

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New Grapes to be added to Bordeaux Repertoire

July 18: Aware of the global warming and the need to add grape varieties that can mitigate the impact of climate change without diluting the identity of Bordeaux wines, the producers have selected 7 new varieties from outside the region and expect them to be allowed up to 10% in a blend by 2021, but Loic Pasquet of Liber Pater in Graves , an ardent follower of Terroir is devastated with the choice of new grapes, writes Subhash Arora

The seven new varieties approved unanimously by the Union for Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellations covering 55% of Bordeaux are four reds and three whites, include two major Portuguese grapes Touriga Nacional, used widely in hot Douro Valley to produce Port and dry wines and Alvarinho which is also the signature grape of Spain known for high quality and delicious white wine-my personal favourite.

Marselan is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and the better heat tolerating Grenache that was created in 1961 in France and is already being used in South-west France. It is also a commonly used single variety in China and should have no problem being accepted as a part of Bordeaux wines.

Petit Menseng is a white variety which is used in sweet wines in France as well as in Italy. It is also grape allowed in the blend of Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Arinarnoa is the red variety, a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat, the signature grape of Uruguay. Liliorila is a rare white variety that is a cross between Chardonnay and an obscure variety Baroque.

Castets is the only variety which used to be a part of Bordeaux blend and now a negligible quantity is being produced in France.

Growers will be allowed to plant up to 5 percent of their vineyards with them, and can only add up to 10 percent in their final blend in any label. These grapes have been selected for natural high acidity structure and strong perfumed aromas. They are also known to be resistant to vine diseases like mildew and grey rot.

The grapes will not be allowed to be listed on the labels, a decision aimed at preserving the identity of Bordeaux. This could be controversial as more and more Bordeaux wines have been listing the traditional varieties like Cabernet, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc in recent years, making it easier for consumers to know what is inside the bottle. Merlot, the most planted grape variety in Bordeaux, is an early ripening variety that gets over-ripe and hence gives highly alcohol wines in hot years like in 2003. With increasing temperatures its use in the blend will come down.

For now, the addition will be allowed only on the entry level wines of Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superiore and not the prestigious appellations or Chateau wines of Pauillac and Saint Emilion etc. Interestingly, some Bordeaux producers have been already growing non-allowed grapes reportedly in their vineyards for several years as a hedge against climate change.

The proposal still needs to be approved by INAO, Institut national de l’Origine et de la qualité (previously Institut National des Appellations l’Origine)-  the French organization charged with regulating French agricultural products with Protected Designated of Origin (PDO), controlled by the French government through the Ministry of Agriculture. But Bernard Farges, elected as the new President of Conseil Interprofessionnel Du VIN De Bordeaux (CIVB) the professional body of producers, Négociants and brokers, on July 16 for a 3 year term, feels there will be no problem in getting it the approval from INAO.  Incidentally he was also the President from 2013-2016.

Bordeaux currently has 65 appellations, with 111,400 ha under vine. Of the region's PDO wines, 5,800 winegrowers produced 4.99 million hL in 2018.There are 29 cooperatives and three cooperative unions, as well as 300 wine merchants and 72 wine brokers.

Liber Pater a big detractor

Loic Pasquet, the Enfant Terrible of Bordeaux has been highly critical of the new move, not as much as adding the grapes but adding them without any sense of Terroir of which he is very vocal and passionate about. Without hiding his emotions of anger and frustrations and seemingly at loggerhead with several producers of Bordeaux Top Growths, he tells delWine, ‘ I agree with adding new varieties but what is the logic of selecting these grapes?’ Why Touriga Nacional and Portuguese grapes, he wonders? Ditto with Marselan. It does not make any sense. Do these people understand the relationship between grapes and Terroir at all? I don’t think so.’

He agrees only with Castets, being the local grape variety almost forgotten-he has planted this variety though.  ‘We can also use Tarney, another autochthonous grape variety, or Saint Macaire, Cabernet Goudable (cross between Cabernet Franc and Crouchen) and Gros Cabernet. These are all local varieties than have been used before and can handle warmer climate well. But what these producers don’t understand is that we need more carbon in the soil for the vines to be strong. They are only interested in pushing industrial wines with no taste of terroir.’

Loic, who had recently announced release of his Liber Pater2015 at €30,000 a bottle, already uses some of these grape varieties after thorough research. ‘These people (meaning top Bordeaux producers) don’t understand terroir and grape connection. They are just making expensive juice and selling it at very high price. They are using too many chemicals,’ as he talks of Permaculture and the eco based systems. Quite a critic of the 1855 classification, he says,’ you know in French history not everyone was a Napoleon-but some people think they are one-but they are not!’

Loic may have an ally in Pedro Parra, a well-known authority on Terroir. The Chilean flying Terroir specialist was one of the Speakers at the recently concluded MUST Fermenting Ideas Conference in Cascais, Portugal where he spoke about the importance of matching grape variety with terroir in a structured way before planting, to get the best results.

Loic Pasquet has some strong opinions about the en Primeur and how it may collapse but that is a matter of another Article. For now, it may not be Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and possibly Carmenere –the grapes so far allowed in AOP Bordeaux, for long.

For a couple of Articles on Liber Pater, please visit:

Liber Pater 2015: World’s Most Expensive Wine at €30,000

Star Interview: Loic Pasquet of Liber Pater Bordeaux

Subhash Arora

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