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Carménère, what you need to know

Posted on March 22 2018

Carmenere grape variety infographic

The Grape

Carménère is a grape originally planted in France in the Médoc region of Bordeaux where it was used to produce Bordeaux blends similar to those popular today. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, Carménère is considered part of the original six red grapes of Bordeaux. 

The Disaster

A Phylloxera plague in 1867 nearly destroyed all the vineyards of Europe. It had such a big impact on Carménère grapevines that for many years the grape was presumed extinct. When the vineyards were replanted, growers couldn’t replant Carménère as it was extremely hard to find and too difficult to grow. The cool climate of Bordeaux prevented the vine's buds from flowering resulting in low yields and crops that were rarely healthy. This was the deciding factor in the abandonment and extinction of Carménère in Europe.

The Rediscovery

During the 19th century, Chilean growers imported cuttings of “Merlot” grapes from Bordeaux and planted these in French style vineyards across the valleys near Santiago. These produced very successful, healthy yields and wines with an unusual flavour profile for a Merlot which led the growers to believe that they had a clone of Merlot. This became known as Merlot Selection or Merlot Peumal. But, and it’s a big but, little did these growers know, what they were in fact growing was the extinct Carménère vine! This was discovered by a researcher at Montpellier’s School of Oenology in 1994 and in 1998 the Chilean Department of Agriculture officially recognized Carménère as a distinct variety.

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