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Tuesday Trials and Tribulations
Grenache: Next Big Thing or Another Passing Fancy?

By Stephen Eliot

Rhône varieties have been on our docket a good deal over the last couple of months, and that of course gives us a chance to catch up with what is or is not happening with local Grenache. I like Grenache, and I am still waiting. I am not waiting for quality; there is a good deal of that. I am not waiting for winemaker enthusiasm or praise from the press; there is plenty of both as well. But, in the end, there are more words than wines, and I am waiting for a sign that the public is about to get engaged. Those who fret and wring their hands at the disproportionate marketplace power of wine critics would have a hard time proving their point it by looking at Grenache. As I see it, there are too many empty spots on Grenache’s diminutive bandwagon, and I confess to impatience in waiting for them to be filled.

Maybe it is simply that there is far too little of the stuff made. Critical mass cannot be reached when there are but a several dozen producers, most making but a few hundred cases of Grenache, if that. I have heard muffled murmurs that the grape is ignored because it has yet to find a singular style here on the coast and thereby is met by consumer hesitation, but I do not find that argument any more valid than the all too similar ones about Syrah and Pinot Noir. I wonder, however, if Grenache’s lack of recognition and respect might be due, at least in part, to the fact that it is so often blended with other grapes and thus is perceived as being unable to stand on its own.

Now, regardless of my fondness for good Grenache, I admit that I am not sure that it is a varietal capable of real greatness, of complexity and depth that will rival that of the best Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs, but I suppose my unwavering optimism and belief in its considerable potential rests on the notion that California’s comparatively forgiving climes offer sun-loving Grenache a near-perfect home. If greatness is, in fact, within its reach, it is here that it will be found, and I am more than content at how very good the best local versions have shown. I just wish there were more—and more public enthusiasm for those that are already here.

I do hope that Grenache’s slow coming of age will not run into the problems posed by the fifteen-minutes-of-fame principle and become briefly celebrated by the vocal au courant crowd before being abandoned in favor of the next new thing. I guess, however, that its enduring place, if it indeed is to have one, is dependent on its ability to stand on its own and weather the fickle winds of fashion. I rather think that it will.

In the meantime, I will wait and be watching as new versions from old friends and new make their ways to the market. There is always a surprise or two to be had; something new and unexpected, and something that reaffirms my abiding belief that the best is yet to come.


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by larry schaffer
Posted on:2/19/2014 4:55:02 PM

Thanks for the post about my absolute favorite variety to work with, and congratulatoins on explaining some of the 'challenges' the variety faces domestically.

I tend to agree with your speculation that grenache tends to be 'overlooked' because it is most often blended with other varieties and not bottled as a separate variety. In addition, when bottled as a separate variety, it is still most often 'blended up' with syrah to add color and possibly Mourvedre to add a touch of funk.

And that is, to me, where another problems lies in domestic grenaches. Producers seem 'too scared' to let the grape speak for itself, and instead 'run scared' because they feel it needs more color or 'oomph'. If the same attitude was applied to pinot noir, you as a winemaker would be shot and/or quartered, but it's 'expected' with grenache.

What's there to love about the variety? I truly and honestly believe that good grenache wines have aromatic profiles that are unparalleled in their depth and delicateness. Grenache tends to wear it's sense of 'place' on its sleeve - it is usually quite easy to tell a warm climate grenache from a cool climate one because of the clear differences in aromatics and 'flavors' the two normally have.

Will there be 'more' grenaches out there? Depends . . . generally speaking, the variety does not do as well at 'lower alcohols' due to it's touch and bitter skins that need to be hung a little longer to soften. This doesn't bode well for those chasing the 'lower alcohol / higher acid' wines these days.

And will the 'big guys' begin producing and selling more grenache/ My guess is no, even though there was over 65,000 tons of the fruit crushed in CA in 2013 (nearly as much as there was petite sirah). One problem with the stats was that of this number, nearly 60,000 of those tons was produced in the Central Valley and will be headed towards jug wines . . .

Please keep 'fighting the fight' in terms of reviewing these wines and talking up their praises when they deserve them. Though Grenache may never be the 'next big thing', it certainly will contine to make some of the most exciting wines coming out of California, especially in Santa Barbara County.


Larry  Schaffer

tercero wines

by Joseph
Posted on:2/19/2014 10:00:56 PM

Thank you for highlighting Grenache. Been working with this very versatile grape for many years. My favorite is harvest early from our rocky soil and its just like Sauv Blanc. 

by Greg
Posted on:2/20/2014 9:04:31 AM

Larry's comment are spot on in that the varietal is so prolific, croping 8 tons an acre in the valley. Economics took the Grenache train down the wrong track.

We are scared but the idealist in me knows that if grown and produced in the design of quality it can stand on a global stage with any varietal.

RhoneRangers apr 6th

by Mikael Sigouin
Posted on:2/21/2014 11:20:21 AM

Larry great comments on helping people understand the grape. For anyone out there that has had some of the beautiful seductive CDP's or the well-structured Priorat versions know how amazing this grape can be. The grape is purely in the feminine form which is hard for many winemakers to understand. You have to treat the grape with ultimate respect as you should with any woman which I believe is hard for a lot of men. In CDP there are more women winemakers than most regions in France who make some amazing wines with the grape.

 Grenache in this country is still in its infancy which is one of the reasons why it will take some time before we see Grenache really shine. We can all thank Tablas and the likes of John Alban for bringing us the new French clones which have taken the grape to another level in this country. People are finally figuring out that Grenache is super site sensitive and cannot be truly great unless it grown in a site that is perfect for keeping it in balance. This means not too hot, not too cool, but just right. Think Ballard Canyon as a great example. The truth is that most of these new clonal plantings are still very young and will only get better as they get older into their 20s, 30’s and beyond as we see from the old vines in France, Spain and Australia.

Pinot producers complain about the difficulties working with and growing Pinot but I can tell Grenache is harder. It is super sight specific. Too hot and you lose acid and tannin and have to back blend. Too cool and you are picking it in late December with huge tannin and searing acidity. It is the first red to bud break but the last grape you pick, so you have to worry about frost and rain in the spring and rain again in the fall. It is prone to shatter but it is also very fertile so you literally have to drop 2/3 of your crop and bonsai the clusters  to get high quality. It cannot be exposed directly to sunlight or you will bleach your crop and get very hard skins which is why head training is preferred. As the last grape picked you have to worry about fall rains and bunch rot. I could go on and on about its difficulties but I won’t.

 I’ve been working with the grape since 1999 and make approximately 150 tons of quality Grenache each year from 5 vineyards and can tell you that it is not easy. Which is most likely why you will not see it take the spotlight so quickly because it is a grape of patience, as is a woman. When more winemakers figure her out we will see more quality rise to the top. To me Grenache is Queen and patience is a virtue.



Mikael Sigouin


Beckmen Vineyards




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