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Monday Manifestos
Let’s Talk Grenache—NBT or Never Wozzer?

By Charles Olken

I will admit it. I was part of the Mateus/Lancer’s generation. Sweet, pink wines that went down easy and made great candle holders. Along the way, I discovered Grenache Rosé from Italian Swiss Colony. It was one of two wines I used to drink before I got wise to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the other being Italian Swiss Colony Zinfandel. Most of you are not old enough to remember the “little old winemaker” and his giant winery up in the Alexander Valley. As hard it is might be to believe for some of you, those were the days when jug wines were produced in Sonoma County from old vines. Man, that Zin was a bargain at $1.49.

The Grenache Rosé, probably came from Central Valley fruit, however. It was simple, juicy, probably quite sweet and smelled and tasted of strawberries and bubble gum. It was less expensive than Lancers or Mateus so it had its utility. And the memory of those wines still instructs my sense of what Grenache can be—not should be, mind you, but in our recent red Grenache tastings that will feature in our Rhône coverage in July, there have been several wines that remind of that old-fashioned Rosé. If California Grenache never rises about strawberry quaff, in red or pink forms, however, it probably has no more future going forward than it has had a past over the last several decades.

That said, Grenache does not have to suffer from terminal cuteness on the one hand or overripe dullness on the other. In the hands of the a few successful practitioners, it has shown suppleness and gentleness that reminds of Pinot Noir but with a somewhat lighter, juicier berryish side that may not parallel those pink wines of my misspent youth but certainly is part of a continuum of Grenache possibilities. Whether Grenache will find the right sites and the right winemaking attention to become the NBT (next big thing) or will remain in the vinous backwater is still to be seen. Lots of grapes have potential. Few rise to levels of commercial acceptance, and even grapes like Syrah, which went from nothing to tens of thousands of acres in a few short decades and is accepted as one of the world’s noble varieties, has struggled to make a place for itself relative to Cabernet and Pinot.

The NBT? Chances are that Grenache won’t make it any more than Nebbiolo or Tempranillo or Mourvèdre or Sangiovese ever made it. But, the top entries in recent years give reason for hope. It will take a boomlet of new plantings before we can find out. Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath.


Grenache Blast from Past
by Chuck Hayward
Posted on:5/23/2011 10:08:32 AM

Check out this blast from the past, especially the gal with the chicken leg. Thirsty and hungry!! Grrr...

Grenache... Again
by Chuck Hayward
Posted on:5/23/2011 11:17:03 AM

A few things. For one, today, the odds of NBT for any one grape/region/style are limited if we are talking about the broad general market. Gruners were the NBT for the sommelier set yet it has really not translated into the retail market. For that matter, aussie shiraz was the NBT for retail but did not have much of an impact amongst the somms. Given the diversity of wines, market segments, etc, NBTs will have big impact on some portions of the market but in the future, it will be rare that the entire industry will be swept away with just one item/product/region.

With regards to grenache, understanding it is really a three country project. As usual, the US market always looks to France for the grape's "correct" expression. In California as well as Oregon and Washington, serious attempts are limited as of now as producers seek out the best locations while others concentrate on syrah.

The limitations of California grenache are as much a need to find the right clones as well as site. Australia, of course, is completely ignored even though they have been working with pre-phylloxera grape material for 150 years.

Most of the top Rhone Ranger producers of grenache and syrah are completely ignorant of that fact. Otherwise, the quarentine departments looking at flights from Sydney would be working overtime. But instead, we get the Francophone-only approach to the source material for planting in California. With respect to serious grenache here, we must understand that we are looking at a narrow selection of source material and other clones may prove to be better suited to our climes. That being said, the best grenaches in California for me: 2005 Broc Cellars "Dry Stack" (Bennett Valley) and some other one a few years ago from Santa Barbara. Have tasted a few others from Bennett Valley and I am liking them a lot.

With respect to the wines themselves, I love the grape, alone or blended and really appreciate what I call it's "pinot on steroids" sensibility. But I am afraid that perception of grenache will stir up the same old hornet's nest again. Somebody's got to do it so I take the blame for this week's vitriol...

Grenache Statistics
by Matt Smith
Posted on:5/23/2011 11:50:40 AM

With due respect given to Mark Twains view of statistics here are some numbers to go with the arguments. 

Tons of Grenache purchased in 2009: 73,057

Tons of Grenache purchased in 2010: 66,064

Tons of Cab Sauv purchased 2010: 339,138

Tons of Merlot purchased 2010: 243,201

Tons of Syrah purchased 2010: 99,776

Tons of Zinfandel purchased 2010: 374,329

Tons of Pinot Noir purchased 2010: 102,855

Tons of Barbera purchased 2010: 53,002

Tons of Petite Sirah purchased 2010: 45,280

Tons of Rubired purchased 2010: 214,325

These numbers are for California and come from the 2010 grape crush report.  Based on the numbers Grenache will need to see a huge increase in planting to break away from the pack it is in.  It is no where close to Zin and Cab Sauv.  All of the tons listed above in 2010 showed a decline from the numbers in 2009 (we all crushed less fruit in 2010)  The only one to show an increase was rubired which went up almost 50%.  So based on the numbers the next big thing is going to be rubired!  Bet you never saw that coming!

Behind the numbers
by Christian Miller
Posted on:5/23/2011 1:25:36 PM

The NBT question for Grenache tonnage is how much goes into generic red blender and blushes, how much goes into Rhone-style blends and how much is labeled Grenache (not much). It's the latter two that will fuel any NBT, but as it happens over 80% of the Grenache acreage is in the mid-south Central Valley and probably goes into the former.

On the other hand, it's better for NBT to lead to planting than trying to make it happen the other way around. Ask Syrah growers.

Rubired business is all about concentrate.

by Eugenia Keegan
Posted on:5/24/2011 12:48:31 PM

Hi guys!  I am here in France and betting the store on grenache!  I have been making pinot noir for over 30 years and have fallen in love with G.  Can it be made with a PN sensability....I'm working on it.  New world G is a question without an answer, yet (excluding Australia).  For now, I am doing my "apprenticeship" in the Old World.  One thing at a time! 

by Chuck Hayward
Posted on:5/24/2011 2:14:10 PM

Never understood how 100-150 year old vines qualifies a country as New World..... Maybe New World G (my new rapper name) is not the question but the answer! Have fun!!

New Vines
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:5/24/2011 2:37:27 PM


I have yet to see that Old Vines has an a priori right to quality. Location, it seems to me trumps age, and winemaking, not matter how good, cannot trump overripe or burned out fruit.

I think your comments about looking to Oz for inspiration and clonal material pretty much accepts the fact that we do not have enough Gr. in the right places.

And, yes, the Dry Stack vineyard seems to be one of those right places. But how much Gr. do we have in places that are not very hot? Not much.

Therein lies the rub, and thus the question. What plant material, put in which pieces of ground, made by whom. Grenache does, as some very good examples have shown, have potential. But so did the early versions of Sangiovese and Viognier.

For me, it is all fingers crossed time with Grenache, and if talented people like Eugenia Keegan are making an effort to understand the grape, just as some folks have done successfully with Rhone varieties, my hopes get increased. I have all the time in the world to wait--for my kids to enjoy CA Grenache. :-}

by Chuck Hayward
Posted on:5/24/2011 3:27:59 PM

As always, Charlie, you are spot on. Although I have to swallow hard about having time to wait. Am afraid I am on the wrong side of that divide... rats!

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