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China: more Carmenère than Chile?

There could be more Carmenère planted in China than anywhere else in the world, according to French ampelographer Jean-Michel Boursiquot.

Jean-Michel Boursiquot addresses attendees, including db, of a Viña Carmen Carmenère conference in Chile.

Addressing attendees of a Carmenère conference in Santiago on Thursday 27 November, Boursiquot considered the global plantings of the grape, which he identified in Chile 20 years ago to the month of his lecture.

While the area of officially-classified Carmenère vineyards in China is 1,353 hectares today, he said there could be as much as 15,000ha in the ground, 50% more than Chile, which has a little over 10,700ha.

The reason for the large difference between the official figures in China and Boursiquot’s estimate stems from the fact Cabernet Gernischt, which is widely planted in the country, is a synonym for Carmenère.

Considering 8% of China’s vineyard area of 200,000ha is accounted for by Cabernet Gernischt, Boursiquot said that the grape “may reprensent 15,000ha”, although he added that “under the name Cabernet Gernischt, you can find Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Carmenère”.

However, while initial studies in China suggested that Cabernet Gernischt is identical to Cabernet Franc, DNA profiling of Cabernet Gernischt samples from Changyu Winery has shown that it is identical to Carmenère (Wine Grapes, Robinson, Harding, Vouillamoz).

Jean-Michel Boursiquot (left) and Sebastián Warnier, head of viticulture for Santa Rita Estates (right). Boursiquot points out the twisted stamens on Carmenère just after flowering.

After China and Chile, the country with the third highest number of Carmenère vines is Italy, with just over 1,000ha.

Here too there has been confusion over the vine’s true identity: grapes in Italy’s north eastern wine regions that were classified as Cabernet Franc are in fact Carmenère.

Elsewhere, Boursiquot said that there was 56ha of Carmenère planted in Argentina, 41ha in France and just 23ha in the US.

He said that the variety was easy to spot just after flowering due to its unique twisted stamens, while stressing that the vine, which is a cross of Cabernet Franc and Gros Cabernet, originated in France and should be spelt with a grave accent on the penultimate ‘e’, but not an acute accent on the first ‘e’.

The event was hosted by Santa Rita Estates, which owns the Carmen wine brand, because it was on 24 November, 1994, that Boursiquot identified Carmenère vines, previously thought to be Merlot, growing in Viña Carmen’s Alto Maipo vineyards.

To mark the two decade milestone, Viña Carmen has held a series of tastings across Europe and North America this year, and invited Boursiquot to lead the seminar in Santiago on 27 November.

Meanwhile, Wines of Chile have declared 24 November #Carmenereday.


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