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Grenache Blanc

Ricca Terra director Ashley Ratcliff

 

Grenache Blanc — a grape variety for
Australia’s future

By Ashley Ratcliff, Director, Ricca Terra, Riverland, South Australia

First published in the Autumn 2022 issue of the Wine & Viticulture Journal

 

When you drive around any winegrowing region of Australia today, you see more and more mass plantings of vineyards. Many grapegrowers have moved away from the old style ‘fruit salad’ blocks, replacing them with vineyards built for economies of scale. It’s all about multi- row equipment, increasing batch sizes for winery production and, if you are going to get the harvester dirty then you need to pick at least 100 tonnes or it’s not worth getting out of bed!

If you travel through the Riverland you can still find the occasional patch of land that has not followed this large-scale approach to farming. These blocks generally consist of a few hundred trees of apricots, small plantings of three of four different grape varieties (producing no more than 10 tonnes per variety), some vacant land where summer vegetables such as butternuts are grown, and a small cream brick house built on the least productive part of the property. These blocks of land are almost a time vault, usually owned by weathered but heroic husband and wife teams.

From day one, Ricca Terra decided to follow the lead of those growers who understand the land. Those weathered husband and wife teams have been great inspiration in building the vision of Ricca Terra, that being a mixed farm operation. With more than 40 different grape varieties planted, three individual olive groves, a packing shed and old drying racks (recently restored and used to make straw wine), we like the fact that we have not followed the path of ‘economy of scale’ farming.

Ricca Terra’s fascination has been focused on Italian, Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties. If anything, French varieties have been fairly and squarely on the chopping block! We have to blame Nick Dry (former viticulturist with Yalumba Nursery and now proprietor of Foundation Viticulture) for the introduction of Grenache Blanc to Ricca Terra. I received a call from Nick a few years ago while shopping in Nuriootpa asking me if I wanted to make wine from the various grapes varieties in the Yalumba Nursery source blocks. As Nick reeled off all the different grape varieties on offer, I kept replying with “no”. Then he mentioned the ‘G’ word, Grenache Blanc.

For the first two vintages (2018 and 2019) we made Grenache Blanc from the Oxford Landing nursery source block. Only one source row was planted, producing around two tonnes. The first thing I noticed about Grenache Blanc was its ability to produce a substantial crop. While it grows a balanced canopy, too much vigour is not an issue. If anything, a bit more vegetative cover would be preferred (note: the Yalumba Nursery source block and Ricca Terra Grenache Blanc are planted on own roots).

The white grape varieties we have selected and planted at Ricca Terra naturally have good acid at harvest. Wine such as Fiano, Arinto, Greco and Vermentino have great acid zing; this is what we want. This is not the case with Grenache Blanc. Grenache Blanc seems to make a broader and richer style wine, which is perfect for Ricca Terra as we don’t want all our wines looking and tasting the same. It is definitely not Sauvignon Blanc!

 

 

 

We have found Grenache Blanc has a tendency to ripen quickly. The Baume can jump very quickly. While we pick on fruit flavours, we don’t want to make high alcohol wines, so we monitor the ripening of Grenache Blanc more regularly than other varieties. It is not a tight-bunched variety and it has thick skins, so bunch rots should not pose a problem (we have not experienced bunch rots as the climatic conditions to date have not tested this theory).

In 2018, we planted Grenache Blanc at Ricca Terra (Entav-Inta 143 clone) and harvested our first vintage in 2020. Every year since we have planted Grenache Blanc and today we have approximately 4ha. We make 300 cases of Grenache Blanc under the Ricca Terra brand. It is a popular wine and it sells out very quickly. The grapes are hand harvested and fermented naturally in old French oak. Our aim is to make a rich and textured wine. The balance of the Grenache Blanc that we grow is sold to other wineries, such as Thistledown Wines and Dawning Day.

Grenache Blanc will be a grape variety of the future. The big advantage for this variety and the resulting wine is consumers know ‘Grenache’. While the white version is different to that of the red version, having a degree of awareness of this variety in the eye of the buyer is a massive advantage over many alternative grape varieties. In our experience, explaining the story of Grenache Blanc over Arinto is much easier.

The origins of Grenache Blanc is the Rhône Valley and northern Spain. As a variety it is often blended with other white grape varieties, which is also the case in Australia. The limited availability of the variety could be a reason why Australian winemakers tend to use it in blends. As more Grenache Blanc is planted and it becomes more abundant, expect to see more straight Grenache wines in the market.

As we enter a potential cycle of over-supply, in particular with varieties such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, moving back to a mixed farm model that builds diversity and exclusiveness could be a strategy for grapegrowers and winemakers to consider. Fortunately there are a plethora of grape varieties that could be planted, allowing a movement away from the stereotypical Australian vineyard. One grape variety that should be top of the list is Grenache Blanc.

 

Grenache Blanc

By Peter Dry, Emeritus Fellow, The Australian Wine Research Institute

Background
Grenache Blanc (a stable mutation of Grenache Noir) is an old variety that probably originated in Catalonia in north-east Spain, close to the region of Terra Alta. It is this region that has the greatest diversity of Grenache Blanc today and there is a long history of its use, particularly in Empordá near the border with France. The largest planted areas are in France (4976ha in 2010) and Spain (approximately 2100ha); in the latter, Terra Alta (350-1000m elevation) has 33% of the world’s Grenache Blanc. It is recommended in southern France including the Rhone (approximately 5000ha) and Roussillon where it is used as both a varietal and blender. Grenache Blanc is also grown in Portugal, Croatia, USA (California) and South Africa. Synonyms include Alicant Belyi, Alicant Blanca, Belan (Croatia), Belan, Bernacha Blanca, Feher Grenache (Hungary), Garnatxa Blanca, Grkenas Mplan, Lladanor Blanca and Sillina Lanc. Grenache Blanc is a recent arrival to Australia (released from quarantine in the early 2010s) and there are currently fewer than 10 wine producers.

Viticulture
Budburst and maturity are mid-season (earlier than Grenache Noir). Vigour is moderate to high with erect growth habit. Bunches are large and well-filled to compact with medium berries. Yield is moderate to high. Like Grenache Noir it is pruned to spurs and reported to be both drought and heat tolerant — but leaf cover of bunches is desirable to protect from sunburn. Grenache Blanc is susceptible to downy mildew and bunch rot, but less so to oidium. It is less sensitive to coulure than Grenache Noir and has good resistance to wind. In Europe it is often grown as bush vines.

Wine
Grenache Blanc is known for full-bodied, rich wines that age well. Because it is a low acid variety, it is often blended with other more acidic varieties such as Macabeu in Spain or Picpoul and Clairette in France. If used for a single variety wine, it should be picked early to achieve adequate freshness. In South Africa, it is used for a ‘Cape White’ blend with Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. It has good potential in warm to hot regions in Australia.