The Grapes of Yesteryear

In a time of increasingly standardized production, a Bordeaux wine grower is fighting the tide by producing wine from near forgotten grape varieties. 

In the midst of ongoing reforms aimed at modernizing, and it could be argued standardizing, the French wine industry, one Bordeaux wine grower is attempting to salvage a range of neglected grape varieties. "I had the luck to have a few parcels of old Petit Verdot and Malbec vines on my estate," said Thierry Bos, whose family have been making wine at Chateau de Bouillerot in Entre-deux-Mers, about 37 miles outside of Bordeaux, since 1935. The estate itself has been producing wine since 1874.


"I always found it sad that in Bordeaux most winemakers use only two or three grape varieties," says Bos. As a result in 1999 he decided to add to his collection of endangered—in Bordeaux at least—grapes by planting several parcels of Carmenère vines.


Now, using only these three varieties Bos is producing between 3 and 4 thousand bottles a year of a wine he named Le Cep D'Antan, or Grapes of Long Ago, using proportions of roughly a third each Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenère.


In Bordeaux, where six grape varieties are authorised for winemaking by INAO—the French wine regulator—the vast majority of blends contain dominant proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The other four, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenère, are used, if at all, only in tiny percentages.


Bos says one of the reasons the Carmenère grape has become increasingly rare here is that it is a delicate, low yielding plant. Another difficultly is that it is, like Petit Verdot and Malbec, a late ripening grape, a problem in Bordeaux which has until recently been considered a cool climate.


However, in an era of government limitations on yields, increasingly hotter summers and concerns over standardization, all of the above can only be seen in an increasingly positive light.

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