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Six new grape varieties approved in Bordeaux

Published:  04 March, 2021

The Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO) has formally approved the use of four new red and two new white grape varieties for official use in Bordeaux as the region makes strides to future proof itself against the effects of climate change.

The announcement by INAO, a division of France’s Ministry of Agriculture, is the result of over a decade of research by wine scientists and growers to address the impact of climate change in the vineyard.

The approved varieties are well-adapted to alleviate hydric stress associated with temperature increases and shorter growing cycles and include four reds – Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan and Touriga Nacional – and two whites – Alvarinho and Liliorila. The first plantings of the new varieties are planned for 2021.

According to the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB), over 52 varieties have been subjected to intense scrutiny over the past decade, with only six making the final cut.

Under the revised national guidelines, the six additional Bordeaux grape varietals were named “new varieties of interest for adapting to climate change”. They are limited to 5% of the planted vineyard area, cannot account for more than 10% of the final blend of any given colour, and – following the convention – will not appear on Bordeaux labels.

The now expanded portfolio of grapes are in addition to Bordeaux’s long-term red staples, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Carménère and Petit Verdot. The AOC-approved historic white varieties remain Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Muscadelle, Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Merlot Blanc and Mauzac.

The winemakers of Bordeaux AOC & Bordeaux Supérieur first announced their intent to authorise new varieties in June 2019, specifically to tackle climate change.

It is hoped that the new varieties will help winegrowers to diversify their plantings while also giving new lift to ancestral varieties that were previously harder to handle.

For example, late-ripening Petit Verdot has benefitted from global warming: plantings of Petit Verdot are up +191% as of 2018, the CIVB said.

In addition to plant materials, Bordeaux has also introduced other eonological and agricultural practices to help winegrowers adapt to climate change. These include adapting best practices to the needs of each vintage, such as delayed pruning, increasing vine trunk height to reduce leaf area, limiting leaf-thinning to protect grapes from sun, night harvesting and reducing plant density.