Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller at Sugar Creek Vineyards & Winery in Missouri with Winemaker Chris Lorch
Vitis Vinifera, Vitis Aestivalis, Vitis Labrusac and Other Grape Varieties
When I am in a wine store in Washington DC or Frankfurt am Main, I absolutely never see any Villard Blanc, Seyval Blanc or Chardonel in the shelves. It is always Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, to name a few. This should not come as a surprise because the latter are all vitis vinifera or so-called European grapes, indigenous in the Eurasian area and vitis vinifera grapes are without any doubt the best in the world for fine table wine. But there are other grape varities in the world, although the world wine market is dominated by European grapes, accounting for 90% of the market: Vitis aestivalis, native to eastern North America, Vitis rupestris, native to North America, Vitis riparia, native to northeastern North America, Vitis amurensis, the Asiatic grape variety, native to Siberia and China, Vitis rotundifolia, native to the southern half of the United States and Vitis labrusca, native to northeastern North America. Concord and Niagara are two prominent domesticated offshoots of this species.
Picture: Chardonel from Chaumette Vineyards and Winery
But Villard Blanc, Syval Blanc and Chardonel do not belong to the non-vinifera grape varities. What are they? They are French American hybrid grapes.
French American Hybrid Grapes and Missouri
Hybrid grapes are grape varieties that are the product of a crossing of two or more Vitis species. This is in contrast to intra vitis species crossings, typically between vVitis vinifera grapes. French American hybrid grapes are crossings with both European and American vitis species involved.
Picture: Vignoles, Chambourcin and Seyval Blanc from Montelle Winery
Importantly, the French American hybrid grapes have stronger winter hardiness and are more resistant to fungal diseases, which is a great advantage for a region like Missouri. Therefore, in Missouri – and in other States of the US – you find a lot of French American hybrid grapes. Indeed, the revival of the Missouri wine industry relies on French American hybrid grapes, – along with Norton, an all American hybrid grape.
When the German settlers arrived in Missouri in the 1800s and started to grow wine, they did this with the native American grapes varieties they found in Missouri. So, before prohibition, when Missouri was a dominant wine producer in the US, Missouri produced its wine with American grapes, like Concord and Norton. Then came the phylloxera crisis (grape root louse) to Europe in the 1860s and biologists fought to rescue European winemaking. One route they went was crossing the European grapes with American grapes. They developed what is now called French American hybrid grapes. These try to combine the elegance of the European grapes with the robustness of the American grapes. Eventually, Europe went the way of grafting European grape vines on American rootstocks, which solved its problem, but at the same time these French American hybrid grapes came into existence.
French Amereican Hybrid Grapes and Organic/Biodynamic/Natural Winemaking in Europe
French American hybrids have also become a renewed focus in the context of the organic/biodynamic/natural wine movement in Europe, as chemical plant protection treatments can be cut back considerably. The recently developed varieties Rondo and Regent are examples of newer hybrid grape varieties for European viticulturalists. Regent now accounts for 2 percent of Germany wine production. See more here.
Picture: Chambourcin from Sugar Creek Vineyards and Winery
French American Hybrid Grape Varieties in Missouri
Chambourcin - Its parentage is uncertain; it is one of the parents of the new disease resistant variety, Regent, which is increasing in popularity among German grape growers. See here. Andrew Meggitt, executive winemaker, St. James Winery said: “Chambourcin is much less fragile than Norton.”
Seyval Blanc – One of the first French American hybrid grapes; is popular in England and the Finger Lakes region. “When I started to grow Seyval Blanc, 80% of the wines were fermented in a sweet style at my winery; now it is the opposite” said winemaker/owner Tony Kooyumjian of Montelle Winery and Augusta Winery.
Chardonel - Is a late ripening white wine hybrid grape, developed in New York State as a crossing of Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay.
Traminette - Developed by Cornell University; Gewürztraminer is one of its parents; a rather new grape variety.
Vignoles – Popular in the Finger Lakes region and along the Missouri River; another very aromatic grape variety. "Lends itself well to a slightly sweet wine.” said Tony Kooyumjian.
Picture: Marechal Foch and Chardonel from The White Rose Winery
Marechal Foch – Developed by the Alsatian Eugene Kuhlmann in France.
Vidal Blanc - Cory Bomgaars, head winemaker, Les Bourgeois Vineyards said: “This is one of my favorites. It is such a workhorse. And I do not see the volume affecting the flavor.”
Drink Local Wine Conference 2011 in Missouri
I learned all the above at the Drink Local Wine Conference 2011 in Missouri. DrinkLocalWine.com – which is about is about spotlighting wine made in the 47 States of the US that are not one of the big three: California, Washington State, and Oregon - held its third annual conference on April 1-3, 2011, in St. Louis, Missouri, and I was very happy to be able to participate in it.
I have provided an overview about the Drink Local Wine Conference 2011 in Missouri here. One of the highlights of the conference was the DLW 2011 Missouri Twitter Taste-off; 20 wineries participated with 2 wines each. See here. I have provided a general overview about the wine producing State of Missouri here and have written about the Augusta AVA - the oldest American Viticultural Areas.
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