Plaimont’s ‘exciting project’ begins to bear fruit

A project to resurrect old and rare southern French varieties is building momentum with plantings of two varieties in particular projected to grow to “hundreds of hectares” over the next few years.

The Gascon co-operative Plaimont Producteurs held a tasting yesterday (7 February) in London during which it was able to offer a tasting of five of these old varieties: Pedebernade 5, Morenoa, Dubosc 1, Tardif and Manseng Noir.

All of the varieties were among those discovered in 1999 in an extremely old vineyard, less than a hectare in size, which had escaped phylloxera due to its sandy soils.

Since then Plaimont has worked to restore the vineyard, identify (where possible) the varieties and also propagate them in its own ampelographic conservatory.

More recently these conservation efforts have been building increasing momentum. Last autumn it was announced that Tardif was to be listed again in the official catalogue of permitted grape varieties in the South-West – an absolutely vital step in it being planted and produced commercially with an appellation stamp.

Manseng Noir, meanwhile, is already being sold in a blend alongside Merlot by Plaimont but the plan is to bottle it alone in May of this year under the label ‘Le Manseng Noir’ (and it will be the only 100% Manseng Noir available anywhere in the world).

Morenoa too, a relative of Cabernet Franc, is already listed in the official cahiers de charge of the region so there is nothing to stop it being propagated further – particularly as it ripens more consistently than Cabernet Franc.

Speaking to the drinks business, Olivier Bourdet-Pees, managing director of Plaimont Producteurs, said it was very pleasing to have seen such “wonderful growth” in the project and how it was, “very special for us to present something very new; something for people to discover.”

He admitted that Manseng Noir in particular with its strong vegetal character was by far the most challenging of the grapes, “shocking” even to those used to more fruit in their wines but he added that in terms of the region’s heritage “it’s important for us [to present it in this way] and some people do love it.”

He added that he expected “hundreds of hectares” of Tardif and Manseng Noir would eventually be planted.

Wine writer Dr Jamie Goode who presented a number of masterclasses at the tasting explained that the resurrection of these old varieties had the added benefit of helping Plaimont’s producers find a “new partner” for the most widespread grape in the region, Tannat, due to increasingly warmer summers.

Manseng Noir was capable of providing a fleshy “density” while Tardif enjoyed extraordinarily high levels of Rotundone (the compound that gives certain grapes their spicy or peppery aromas).

As for Pedebernade 5 and Dubosc 1, although they both displayed extremely attractive characteristics – with Pedebernade 5 rarely breaking the 10% abv mark – both grapes have the rare distinction of being ‘female’ rather than hermaphrodite as most of the world’s other commercial grape varieties are.

At present, single sex vines either male or female are not permitted in France for commercial winemaking at present.

They are allowed in parts of Italy and Greec apparently and Bourdet-Pees added he hoped they would be in France one day soon as well as they still had much to offer both winemakers and drinkers.

“Old grapes, back from the brink will be the vines of the future,” he said, though adding that despite their many upsides, “they need a lot of work so I’m not sure they’ll work for everyone.”

But out of hard work good things can come and as Goode concluded: “It’s a rare and exciting project with lots of potential.”

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