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How French winegrowers are breathing new life into heritage grape varieties

By Vitisphere May 11, 2022
How French winegrowers are breathing new life into heritage grape varieties
Renewed interest in heirloom grape varieties is causing some serious issues for nursery operators, due to a combination of lack of plant material and demand that sometimes falls short of expectations. - crédit photo : Marion Bazireau (Vitisphere)
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ldquo;Around twenty grape varieties cover 90% of vineyard acreage in France, compared with 400 French grape varieties kept at the INRAe vineyard conservation collection at Domaine de Vassal near Montpellier in the South of France. 200 of these are listed in the official catalogue and are therefore eligible to be grown”, stressed Olivier Yobregat, head of plant material at the IFV's South-Western division, as a preamble at the symposium on heritage grape varieties in Occitania, hosted during the ‘Dégustez en V.O.!’ exhibition in Montpellier at the beginning of May.

Winegrowers dotted around the region are reverting to more traditional varieties. In Roquebrun, Thierry Navarre grows Oeillade, Terret and Ribeyrenc in his 12-hectare vineyard. “There were a few Ribeyrenc vines on the estate when I was younger and I remember my grandmother asking me to go and pick some of the grapes for her because she liked their thin skins. When I took over the estate, I propagated the variety and replanted it on three hillsides to see what happened when it was vinified”, he explained during a panel discussion.

In their blended and single varietal iterations, the varieties are very popular, as evidenced by the success of Grégory Langevin, a Parisian wine merchant specialising in heritage varieties. “When they are good, the wines sell very easily because they have a back story. The trick is to share them, and to provide appropriate serving advice”.

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