Chateau Brane Cantenac in Margaux has announced that it is using Carménère in its Grand Vin as a result of climate change. Carménère is a famous “long lost” grape which was thought to have disappeared in Bordeaux after the Phylloxera plague in 1867 which nearly destroyed all the vineyards of Europe.
Carménère was particularly affected as when the vineyards were replanted, growers could not replant Carménère as it was extremely hard to find and has always been tricky to grow as it dislikes damp chilly springs.
It was widely planted in the Medoc in the 19th century, and regarded as a mainstay of claret as it is one of the 6 permitted grape varieties that can go into a Bordeaux blend (the others being: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot).
Henri Lurton told Decanter.com there used to be Carmenere at the Margaux second growth but it was pulled it up in the mid-1990s as it never achieved full ripeness:
“Then in 2006 our young Chilean intern, shocked we had no Carmenere when the variety originated here, invigorated us to research the grape. We discovered it was a grape which truly needs a lot of heat and sunshine, and in the light of global warming, decided to replant it on the best, well-exposed terroir on the plateau de Brane in front of the chateau.’
They replanted half a hectare in 2007 (a fraction of the 75ha total vineyard) and did not plan on using it in the 2011 vintage, but the summer weather, marked by fluctuations in temperature but on average very warm, allowed the Carmenere to ripen well.
‘We harvested the Carmenere three weeks later than our last Cabernet parcels in order to avoid the vegetal character that it usually displays when harvested too early,’ Lurton said.
The wine contains a tiny amount of the grape – 0.5% – but according to Christophe Capdeville, operations manager at Brane, it adds ‘zing’ and personality.
‘If one is patient and gives it all the necessary care, this varietal can give wines with lots of colour, lots of aromas of exotic fruit rather than the usual red or black fruit. It also adds an impression of sweetness in the mouth and grainy tannins like corduroy, rather than velvet.”
There are small patches of Carménère still surviving in Bordeaux and several vineyards have reintroduced it. An example of famous châteaux that use Carménère are Château Clerc Milon in Pauillac and Chateau Haut Bailly in Pessac Leognan – which has all 6 permitted grape varieties growing in its vineyards and uses all 6 in their blend!