What is a native grape variety?
An indigenous or endemic grape variety is a vine variety from a specific terroir. They are characteristics of a particular grape. They are adapted to a specific soil and geography, which allows them to bring out all their typicality.
Currently, only ten of the 80 grape varieties represent more than 70% of the French vineyard area. According to the OIV, “a third of the French vineyard is occupied by just three varieties: Merlot (13.9% of the area), symbol of the Bordeaux terroir and the first variety planted in France, Ugni Blanc (10.2%) and Grenache Noir. (10%), symbol of the French Mediterranean. An impressive figure: 50 grape varieties form the basis of 99% of the world’s wines. These are Merlot, Cabernet-Sauvignon and Chardonnay, each covering more than 200,000 hectares of vineyards around the world.
These figures show the evolution of the supremacy of the great international grape varieties in recent decades. In France, we are witnessing a standardization of grape varieties in our regions, where diversity is traditionally important. One of the explanations for this standardization is historical. Phylloxera, detected in France in the second half of the 1860s, caused the abandonment of a large part of the traditional, very fragile grape varieties. The latter were preferred to the easy and productive grape varieties that were grown in the lowlands with high yields. The main ones are Merlot, Ugni and Garnacha. Then came the so-called “selection” grape varieties from other regions: Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc. The quality of the production has priority, proof of the choice of these grape varieties. This inevitably leads to the exclusion of old varieties from the main production trends. The memory of the ancient wine history of the regions is as if erased by decades of mass wine production.
This means that today we can observe that differentiation logics are changing more or less rapidly. The development of these varieties can be a factor of innovation and growth for small and medium-sized wine companies. These varieties can be a source of originality for a vineyard. Innovation is all the stronger when it is anchored in a territory thanks to regional and local specificities. As we saw at Vinexpo Bordeaux last May, it is the indigenous grape varieties from Georgia and Croatia that are enjoying increasing success. New wines that no one has tasted for 50 or 100 years are attracting a wider audience. To help preserve the plant heritage and allow the development of indigenous grape varieties, the ideal is to erase what is known in terms of flavor. Don’t try to compare yourself to well-known wines, but widen your circle of references.