Seven new grapes approved in historic Bordeaux AOC vote

The Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur wine producers’ syndicate has approved the use of seven new grape varieties, in an attempt to grapple with climate change. Sophie Kevany reports.

Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur wine producers’ syndicate/courtesy of members
The Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur wine producers’ syndicate

As a national heatwave loosened its grip for a few hours Friday morning, the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur wine producers’ syndicate unanimously approved the use of seven new grape varieties.

The move can be seen as an historic climate change adaptation step for the Bordeaux wine industry, although there is agreement that greater measures are still needed.

The new varieties approved at the syndicate’s annual general meeting were four reds, Arinarnoa, Touriga Nacional, Marselan and Castets, and three whites, Alvarinho, Petit Manseng and Liliorila.

The vines were chosen primarily for their reduced susceptibility (but not resistance) to disease, later harvesting potential and ability to maintain acidity and volume in the face of climate change’s warmer weather and unseasonal frosts. All while maintaining existing flavour, aroma, production and quality levels.

Growers will be allowed to plant the new vine types on up to 5% of their vineyard area, and to add up to 10% of their production to final blends, all within existing controlled origin (AOC) rules.

Planting rights for the new grape types – still subject to a final approval by INAO, the French wines of origin quality oversight body – will last 10 years, with an option for one renewal. The first new vines should be planted during the 2020/2021 season.

Bordeaux et Bordeaux Supérieur grower, Christophe Piat of Château Couronneau, said the vote for the new grape types was an excellent first step but more was needed. ‘‘We are still a long way from planting the polygenetic, disease-resistant, hybrid varieties we need,’’ he said.

He added that Bordeaux was reaching the limits of what it could do within existing rules. ‘‘We can’t keep making Merlot at 16 degrees. Anyone who works in international markets will say that,’’ Piat said.

The Bordeaux Supérieur union’s press release alluded to the same need. It said its next move will be to consider the integration of resistant hybrid grape varieties for AOC wine production.

Contextualising the current situation it said ‘‘hybrid varieties can only be planted’’ for protected geographical indication (IGP) wines, or wines without geographical indication. Their use ‘‘will therefore only be possible with an amendment’’ to EU legislation via ‘‘the rewriting of the Common Agricultural Policy.’’

The new grape types in more detail

Arinarnoa: a Tannat/Cabernet Sauvignon cross that is less susceptible to grey rot damage, with low sugar levels and good acidity. Wines are well-structured, colourful and tannic with complex and persistent aromas.

Touriga Nacional: a late ripening grape that can reduce the risk of frost or heat damage and is less susceptible to most fungal diseases apart from excoriose (dead arm). Wines are complex, aromatic, full-bodied, structured, colourful and suitable for ageing.

Castets: a forgotten Bordeaux grape variety that is less susceptible to grey rot, powdery mildew and mildew. Wines are colourful and suitable for ageing.

Marselan: a late ripening Cabernet Sauvignon/Grenache cross that is at lower risk of spring frost, heat, grey rot, powdery mildew and mite damage. Wines are colourful, distinctive and suitable for ageing.

Alvarinho: an aromatic grape that can compensate for flavours lost due to hot weather, at lower risk of grey rot damage, lower sugar levels and good acidity. Wines are aromatic with good acidity.

Petit Manseng: a late ripening, aromatic variety that is at much lower risk of grey rot damage. Wines are soft with sustained aromas.

Liliorila: a Baroque and Chardonnay cross that, like Alvarhino, offers highly aromatic qualities that can be used to compensate for other aromas lost to heat. It is less at risk of grey rot damage. Wines are aromatic wines, powerful and flowery.

Sophie Kevany

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