Just a few miles outside of Carcassonne, you can see a collection of different grape varieties like Syrah, Grenache, Macabeu, Mauzac, Picquepoul, Terret, Vermentino, and more! Just before budbreak 2012, dad planted the ampelographic garden at O’Vineyards.
A big thanks to the Chambre d’Agriculture who helped us find the best grape varieties, choosing the right clones to demonstrate varietal typicity on our terroir at O’Vineyards.
What is an Ampelographic Garden?
Ampelography is a big word used to describe the visual study and identification of grape vines. And that’s basically what you can do here. Wander down a row of vines and see if you can tell the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Or can you tell Clairette from Picquepoul? Which plants have leaves split into three parts and which have leaves with five parts? Which varieties have the most ample fruit clusters? The most leaf growth? And so on.
Why is this fun and not just for wine nerds?
It’s just a few dozen plants, and it seems pretty nerdy, but we think it’ll be very fun.
A lot of the folks who visit O’Vineyards ask what the difference is between Merlot and Shiraz. So it’s great to have a simple visual demonstration of how each of these varieties are unique and specially adapted to different conditions. It’s much more exciting to show people some examples of differences than just saying “Well they’re all genetically different which results in having varying amount, shape, size and placement of leaves and fruit.”
Varietial wine are very popular in many countries. Often times, people will just ask me “what type of wine is this?” meaning what varieties is it made up of? Wine drinkers in the US and UK are always keen to learn the difference between grape varieties.
Planting the Grape Vines:
Some photos of Joe O’Connell planting his young vines and Jean Heritier, director at the Chambre d’Agriculture de l’Aude, helping out.
Here’s a full list of the grape varieties (and their clones and rootstocks) in our ampelographic garden… before anybody yells at me, I know some of these aren’t mediterranean. But they should be fun to look at and they might exemplify the special climate we have in the Cabardes north of Carcassonne that allows us to grow some grape varieties like Merlot, Cot, and Cabernet
- Cabernet Franc – 332 CALMET / 110 R
- Cabernet Sauvignon – 15 / 161 49 C
- Syrah – 524 / 161 49 C
- Terret – CONS / 1103 P
- Carignan – 274 / 333 EM
- Cinsault – BED PLAI / 110 R
- Cot (Malbec) – 594/ 140 RU
- Grenache Noir – 433 / FERCAL
- Marselan – 980 / SO4
- Merlot – 184 CAL / FERCAL
- Mourvedre – 360 / 110 R
- Pinot Noir – 375 / 140 RU
- Chardonnay – 96/ SO4
- Chenin – 220/ SO4
- Grenache Blanc – 143 / 110 R
- Macabeu – CONS MAC PR / 110 R
- Marsanne – 574 / FERCAL
- Mauzac – 740 / 140 RU
- Roussanne – 468 / 333 EM
- Sauvignon – 108 / SO4
- Vermentino – 795 / 140 RU
- Clairette (gris) – CONS / 1103 P
- Picquepoul (gris) – CONS / 1103 P
Jancis just did a write up on varietal days (eg Cabernet Day, Grenache Day, Champagne Day) and I’ll admit that it seems like every day of the year might soon have a varietal celebration associated with it. Like patron saints of wine-drinking. Not just Saint Vincent anymore.
Jancis’ Article on Grape Days
In her article, I pick up on two very different messages. On the one hand, Jancis acknowledges that the celebration of certain varietals seems a little commercially motivated. For example, Cabernet Day was conceived and brought to fruition somewhat autocratically by Rick Bakas, the social media engineer at St Supery, and it’s a day devoted to a varietal that already has a lot of notoriety when it comes from the right side of the tracks (in this case the right side is the Left Bank). People ask “Does Cabernet need a day?” and I kind of get that vibe from bits of Jancis’ writing.
On the other hand, she managed to use this day in a very personal way. She opened a bottle of Figeac and toasted the passing of its winemaker who was so proud of his unique contribution to Cabernet Sauvignon on Bordeaux’s Right Bank. And this is why Cabernet Day was good. We found ways to personalize and celebrate delicious wines.
My Thoughts on Grape Days
And I think this mirrors my experience. I’m going to reiterate how happy I am with the Cabernet Day celebration we had at O’Vineyards and around the world. We didn’t know how the day would turn out, but we ended up surrounded by neighbors and friends and enjoying some really delicious wines that showed off totally different expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon.
And people around the world cheered us on. Americans trapped in the office in the early afternoon could see us sipping as the sun set in the south of France. And as the French started to get sleepy, folks on the west coast of the United States popped corks in their time zone where the party was just starting.
I’m just so happy. I want to say I’m proud, but it’s hard to be proud in the face of such a massive, humbling event. Next to the work of all those winemakers (and don’t forget how much promotional work goes in on the part of Rick Bakas and all the event organizers around the world), what did I really do? I just threw a little party and drank some good wine.
And next to my neighbors who have been working here for generations or names like Thierry Manoncourt who made Jancis’ Figeac, a newly arrived winemaker like me starts to feel pretty small and unimportant.
These days can be important
Anyway, I know it seems like the varietal days are piling up fast, one after the other. And I personally have to question who decided to put them all right before the northern hemisphere’s harvest, a very busy time of year. But I hope that varietal celebrations don’t become trivial. I hope that people go beyond novelty.
Whether you use these days as an excuse to open a special bottle that you really cherish or you use them as an opportunity to explore a varietal you don’t know very well, the important thing is that you’re attaching real emotions to these wines. Drinking wine is fun, but it’s also effortlessly profound.
Next up: Grenache Day
Anyway, enough waxing poetic. Grenache Day is coming up on September 24th. I don’t make any Grenache, but I love to drink it. The Languedoc-Roussillon does a great job with it. I’ve been looking forward to the day ever since it was proposed at the Grenache Symposium held at Chene Bleu. I’ve been told that some other folks in the region are already organizing stellar events.
I personally will strive to swing down to Domaine Gayda and check out their Grenache Day celebration. A workshop with Vinecole followed by a cuve tasting at Gayda with the winemaker. If I can’t go there, I’ll surely be celebrating at dinner with some of my favorite Grenaches. After seeing all the energy and enthusiasm at the Grenache Symposium, I know just how important September 24th is to all the people involved with this grape. From the growers to the winemakers to the writers and the sales people and NEVER FORGET the drinkers… And I hope you all find a way to make the day personal by opening a special bottle of Grenache or by raising your Grenache awareness.
Thanks again to everybody who makes these celebrations possible. Amazing, tireless winemakers, promoters, and wine-lovers.