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Chile marks 20 years of Carménère

The Chilean wine industry is this week celebrating 20 years since the rediscovery of its now signature grape variety – Carménère.

Shipments of vines from Bordeaux, believed to be Merlot, were planted in Chile in the 1800s in the Alto Jahuel region of the Maipo Valley by viticulturists at Viña Carmen – Chile’s oldest winery.

After the devastation of the phylloxera bug in the 1850s throughout Europe, it was through that the Carménère grape variety was extinct.

It was not until 24 November, 1994, that French ampelographer Jean Michel Boursiquot identified Carménère vines, previously thought to be Merlot, growing in Viña Carmen’s Alto Maipo vineyards.

The discovery marked what would become one of the most important milestones in the Chilean wine industry.

On that discovery 20 years ago, Wines of Chile said: “The rediscovery of the variety is an important one, not just for Chile but for the world of wine as it was thought to have been lost for good. One of the oldest noble varieties, known as the ‘grandfather’ of Bordeaux varieties, Carménère was historically a popular variety in France, especially in Bordeaux. In the mid 19th century however, it was all but lost as phylloxera destroyed the vines.Carménère is particularly susceptible to the disease and was not easily grafted or replanted post-phylloxera, disappearing into obscurity.”

On discovering the true identity of its vines Viña Carmen replanted its Carménère in the Apalta valley, part of the Colchagua Valley best suited to Carménère.

Its first harvest came in 1994 with the first vintage blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and released in 1996 under the other name for Carménère: ‘Grand Vidure’, a name which is now prohibited on the Chilean wine imports, hence the name Carménère.

Sebastián Labbé, head winemaker at Viña Carmen said: “The Carménère grape variety is synonymous with Viña Carmen. As Chile’s oldest and most established winery it is fitting that the variety was re-discovered at our Carmen vineyards. I have had the pleasure of working with this noble grape variety at Carmen and for almost ten years now and I firmly believe that the Carmen Carménère wines represent some of the best that Chile can offer.”

Since Boursiquot’s discovery two decades ago, Carménère has grown from a few dozen hectares to almost 9,000 hectares in Chile, which is home to 97% of the world’s Carménère, according to Wine of Chile.

It is now recognised as one of the country’s signature grape varieties, while other European and New World countries like France and the USA have also replanted the variety.

To mark the two decade milestone, Viña Carmen will be holding a series of tastings across Europe and North America, while Jean Michel Boursiquot will lead a seminar in Chile on 27 November, while Wines of Chile have declared 24 November #Carmenereday.

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