Grenache, (also known as Grenache Noir, to distinguish it from its white counterpart Grenache Blanc) is the most widely planted grape in the southern Rhône Valley, and the second most widely planted grape world-wide. It is most often blended (with Syrah and Mourvèdre in France and Australia, and with Tempranillo in Rioja), and is most renowned in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where it comprises 70% of the appellation’s acreage.
Grenache appears to have originated in Spain, most likely in the northern province of Aragon, and ampelographers believe that Grenache was the foundation of Aragon’s excellent vin rouge du pays. From Aragon, it spread throughout the vineyards of Spain and the Mediterranean in conjunction with the reach of the kingdom of Aragon, which at times included Roussillon and Sardinia. By the early 18th century, the varietal had expanded into Languedoc and Provence.
The phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century indirectly increased European plantings of Grenache. In RIoja, for example, vineyards were replanted not with the native varietals, but with the hardy, easy to graft Grenache. A simllar trend occurred in southern France, as the percentage of Grenache plantings after the phylloxera infestation increased signficantly, replacing the previoulsy abundant Mourvèdre.
Grenache was brought to California in the 1860s, where its erect carriage, vigor and resistance to drought made it a popular planting choice. It came to occupy second place in vineyard planting after Carignan and was an element in wine producers’ branded field blends. Unfortunately, this usage encouraged growers to select cuttings from the most productive vines, increasing grape production but reducing the overall quality of the vines. In recent years, Grenache plantings in California have declined as the demand for bulk wine in the Central Valley has shifted toward Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir; currently there are 4,500 acres planted in California.
However, while overall Grenache acreage has declined in California (largely low quality plantings in the Central Valley), the varietal has at the same time undergone something of a resurgence in popularity, with more than 1000 new acres planted in the last 15 years in high quality coastal appellations, the greatest number concentrated in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
So, for International Grenache Day, go knock a couple three glasses off to celebrate this beautiful grape. 🍷
Happy Wine Tasting Adventures,