Mollard – Preservation of a Vine Variety

April 24, 2009

Mollard by Grahame Martin

Try to find the name of the grape variety – Mollard – in any book of vine varieties even in those by Pierre Galet and you will be unlucky. It is one of those vines that have almost passed into oblivion. But like the Phoenix, it is now beginning to rise from the ashes thanks to a few dedicated individuals and ENTAV (The National Technical Establishment for the Improvement of Viticulture).

Mollard was well known in the Hautes-Alpes prior to the invasion of phylloxera in the 1870s. At this time the Hautes Alpes had nearly 6000 hectares under vine, today it is under 200. For Mollard the decline has been even worse; even as late as 1958 there were still nearly 300 hectares grown in this French Department. Currently there are just 25 hectares under cultivation.

Its origin is the Hautes-Alpes (05) and it is believed to be a mutation from the Goulais Blanc. Mollard is a red skinned variety vitis vinifera that adapts itself well to the cooler climates of the Alpes. (Embrun is over 860 metres and Gap 740 metres above sea level). Back in 1868 Dr. Guyot in his book “Studies on French Grape varieties” stated “I find it (Mollard) fresh, with moderate alcohol, a good garnet colour and easy to drink. It is somewhere between a Mondeuse (Savoie) and a Gamay Noir (Beaujolais) in terms of aroma.”

The characteristics of this vine are:
1. Its ability to adapt itself to the soil conditions and the climate of this mountainous area and in the rift valley of the River Durance.
2. It is late in bud-break, thus avoiding many of the problems of late spring frost and snowfalls.
3. It ripens fairly late in the season, loving the long warmish autumn days.
4. It is only a little sensitive to coulure and is easily treated against both oidium and mildew.
5. The bunches are close knit and most commonly almost cylindrical, whilst the berries are of medium size and round in shape.
6. The wine produced is rich, with aromas black plums, a little tar, and some earthiness. (The term used locally is ‘rustique’).
7. The younger vines produce grapes that are well suited to the production of the ‘Vin de l’Année’ wines, whist the grapes from older vines produce wines that are best drunk after 2 – 4 years.

Marc Allemand of Domaine Allemand in Theus (05) in collaboration with ENTAV has just completed a 10 years study on this old vine. 2005 saw the beginning of the results of this study with the acceptance of a ‘mother vine’ with which to produce grafts to begin the preservation of the species. Two of the dozen or so clones were accepted by ENTAV and in 2007, 2000 ‘new’ vines were produced – most of which have been planted in his own vineyards. The production is guaranteed as ‘virus free’. In 2009 it is hoped that a ‘small’ number of grafted vines will become available commercially.

Marc Allemand

Speaking with Marc Allemand he told me, “I started getting the ‘bug’ about Mollard when I was still at school, and it developed further when I joined my farther after graduation. It has become my second ‘wife’, what with all the meetings, discussion groups, seminars etc. that it was necessary to attend to get as far as we have done until now. My greatest joy is that now ‘Cepage Mollard’ is allowed to be stated on my Vin de Pays wine label for my ‘vieilles vines’ red wine, I am currently the only one but it will not be long before a few of my fellow Vignerons will follow. There is another grower in the next village also producing a 100% Mollard wine.”

Question – “What do see as the future for Mollard?”

Answer – “It is an ideal grape variety for those wishing to produce red wines in the cooler climates of the world. It is certainly nowhere near as temperamentally difficult, shy bearing, or as prone to mutation as the pinot noir. Being virtually unknown it offers a new choice to both producer and, hopefully, consumer. Mollard is already being regarded with interest by the Swiss, and in a small way by other small northern producing countries who wish to offer something different to the cabernets, merlots, syrahs and grenaches. But my main interest is in the preservation of ancient varieties that can produce quality wines. So many have already been lost and our ‘big brother’ in Bruxelles is not easy to convince that some tiny varieties of anything are worth retaining. I am also a qualified distiller producing spirits from both grape pomace and fruit ‘eaux de vie’ so I understand it from both the vine and fruit grower’s point of view”.

Question – “Could this be another viognier?”

Answer – “I would love it to be, but somehow I don’t think so. For Mollard there are too many attributes that are similar, some in a tiny way, to other red wine varieties. But with more countries further north in Europe, perhaps Canada and higher regions in Chile and Argentina, and others in hilly regions, wanting to produce red wines with a difference, hopefully there may be a few that will give the Mollard a chance.”

Question – “Is anything being done to publicize the Mollard and its acceptance?”

Answer – “A film, due for release in late October in French, has been made about the vine varieties of the Hautes Alpes. Part of the film was shot here in my vineyards. I will ensure you are invited to its premiere”.

Question – What date and what is the quantity and quality of the 2008 harvest?

Answer – “The best example I can show you is where I have three ages of Mollard in a small parcel of wines at Espinasses (the next village). Harvest will be later than usual as we have not had a great deal of sun (unusual for the valley). The Mollard has lived up to its reputation of not having too many problems with rot and I have done only a limited amount of spraying. The quantity is around average and the quality – good to very good – if we get some late afternoon sunshine. The vintage will start in early October.”

Visiting the one remaining wine co-operative in the Department at Valserres (05), I enquired of the new manager, M. Millot, a young graduate oenologist from Montpellier, if any of the members produce a listed Molllard wine. He told me, “At present there is only one co-operative producer in the Hautes Alpes, producing a 100% Mollard wine, the rest of the members only have tiny amounts of Mollard remaining, so therefore it is it blended into our Vin de Pays des Hautes Alpes rouge.

The one area where there is the opportunity for expansion of Mollard wines is in the growth of the ‘all the year round’ tourist market, but are the ‘powers in office’ capable (or willing)’ to back the small vineyard industry of this department, or will the French anti-drink lobby fire another shot in the foot of the country’s wine industry?

Article and photographs copyright Grahame Martin.

The Wine Century Club Turns 4!

April 22, 2009

4th Birthday

We’re now 590 members strong and growing!

This year, instead of our annual shindig in New York City, we’re going to celebrate online in recognition of the international nature of the club (not to mention the massive global financial meltdown).

Wherever you may be, please raise a glass of something interesting and delicious on May 7th in honor of the club and the glory that is you.  Bask in grapeness, recite the sacred oath and if at all possible please post a short note about the wine you had here.  The note can be as simple as the name of the wine and its grape variety(ies).

It would be amazing if we could collectively taste 100 or more different grape varieties that day.  It would be more amazing if we could taste over 200 in honor of the newly minted Doppel Members.

If you happen to be in London, England on May 7th, please join me, Deborah De Long and Paula Sindberg at Paula’s giant Swiss wine tasting. We’ll be toasting the anniversary with Heida (Païen), Cornalin, Resi, Lafnetscha, Gamaret, and Gwäss(yes, these are grape varieties!).  To sign up, please contact Paula.

Swiss Wines – Grape Varieties You’ve NEVER Heard Of
Date – 7 May 2009 (Thursday)
Venue – Bacchus & Comus, 57 Pelham Street (private home), London SW7 2NJ
Time – 6:30 – 8:00 pm
Cost – £40/person – sorry but Swiss wines are expensive!

This tasting will feature 12 (!!) unique grape varieties that you’ve probably have never heard of so it’s a real opportunity to add to your grape variety “life list”.
All these wines are rare and seldom made anywhere, even in Switzerland. Most are from the Valais, that beautiful valley along which the Rhône River flows on the way from to Zermatt. The tiny producers here make some outstanding wines. The wines aren’t cheap but, then, what is in Switzerland. So to experience the pleasures of Heida (Païen), Cornalin, Resi, Lafnetscha, Gamaret, and Gwäss, among others, join us on 7 May. Book & pay in advance to secure your place.

Enter the Doppel Members

March 31, 2009

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Ooooo, seeing double double, double vision
Ooooo, oh my double vision
Ooooo, double vision
Yeah-ah, I get double vision, ooooo . . .

Foreigner1

In some members’ quest for grapeness, 100 varieties is just not enough.  There is  now a new level of recognition: Doppel Members.  For the non-Teutonic, doppel is German for double, so these members have tried at least 200 different grape varieties.  I hope this doesn’t discourage aspiring members on their quest for 100 but the wine geek species must evolve! Or at least mutate!

nickhendrixdocument

The idea to introduce this new level of membership was presented to me last year by member Nick Hendrix.  He sent  in the most extensively documented application in the history of The Wine Century Club.  He can rest assured that Bacchus will not curse his palate!  All hail Nick, the first officially recognized Doppel Member!

doppelmember1

If you’ve tasted 200 grape varieties and would also like to be recognized as a Doppel Member, please send your updated list to steve@winecentury.com. An armed courier will be dispatched with your Doppel Certificate ASAP.

1Late 70’s power-ballad hair band

The Sacred Oath of The Wine Century Club

February 15, 2009

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By unanimous decree, the executive committee of the Wine Century Club has approved The Official and Sacred Oath of The Wine Century Club.  All members are to recite it upon receiving their certificate or when using public transportation.

The Sacred Oath of the Wine Century Club

I Promise to honor the ways of Bacchus
God of wine, agriculture and madness
But to go easy on the madness
So as not to end up
Shouting at the walls
In a cheap motel
Outside of Poughkeepsie*

*For those outside of New York, Poughkeepsie is pronounced puh-kip-see

Australia’s Top Alternatives Announced

November 12, 2008

Someone once said ‘variety is the spice of life’ and this is certainly true of wines. In recent years, more and more Australian grapegrowers and winemakers have been experimenting with ‘new’ grape varieties. There are countless different grape varieties grown around the world, which are outside what are considered to be the classic varieties such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot. Not all of these varieties are suitable for producing premium quality wines and therefore some of our more progressive winemakers are continually experimenting to see which varieties suit their micro climate.

Early in November each year, an inquisitive bunch of wine industry folk gather in Mildura to examine and appraise the latest crop of wines made from non-mainstream or alternative grape varieties.

In 1999 when Stefano de Pieri and Bruce Chalmers started the Sangiovese Awards which, have developed to become the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, the few alternative varieties that most people in the wine industry had heard about were some of the Italian varieties such as Sangiovese & Nebbiolo. In less than a decade we have seen the emergence of varieties such as Viognier, Pinot Gris and Tempranillo into the Australian wine drinking public’s cognizance.

The 2008 wine show had 581 entries, down slightly from the 626 in 2007, with the Mayford 2006 Tempranillo taking out 3 trophies including Best Wine of the Show. Tempranillo entries were strong this time, with 43 entries over the two classes, divided into 2007/2008 Vintage and 2006 and Older. The older class being considerably the better one with wines having had more time to settle down and become more complex. The judges commented that many of the wines in the 2007/2008 class had good fruit but were over-oaked. It will be interesting to see these wines again in 12 months time at the next show, to see if they develop over that time like their predecessors have.

Other Trophy winners were Tahbilk 2004 Marsanne which won the Trophy for Best White Wine of the Show as well as the trophy for Best Commercial Volume. The Trophy for the Best Italian varietal was taken out jointly by the Dal Zotto Arneis for the white wine and the David Hooks 2006 Barbera for the red wine.

By far the largest numbers of entries were the 93 wines entered in the four Pinot Grigio classes, with Gold Medals going to Trentham, Taltarni, Yarra Burn and Hentschke. This was followed by the 64 entries in to the two Viognier classes where the gold medals were won by Haan Wines Hanenhof 2008 Viognier and Geddes Seldon Inn 2008 Viognier.

One of the positives in the main white wine classes was the increasing number of Albarino & Fiano wines entered. Whilst there weren’t many medals handed out for these two varieties by the Judges, their progress is exciting and these are two varieties to watch with great interest over the next few years, in my opinion.

In the red classes the largest number of entries was in the Sangiovese classes. Again like with the Tempranillo the older class – 2006 & older significantly outperformed the 2007/2008 class- 2 Gold Medals to Nil.

The Nebbiolo class had 22 entries, of which the Gold Medal winning S.C. Pannell Adelaide Hills 2006 Nebbiolo was a stunning wine.

One of the low points of the show was the decline of Petit Verdot, not only were the number of entries down by more than 50% from the 2005 Show to a mere fourteen entries, but also across the two classes, the judges only awarded two Bronze medals and commented “ Petit Verdot’s strength is as a blending component” . By comparison the Lagrein Class had three Bronze medal winners out of nine entries.

In the Durif class 10 out of the 20 entrants achieved Bronze medals and 2 achieved Silver medals. In my opinion the wines from De Bortoli, 919 Wines, Rutherglen Estate and Morris are showing the way forward.

Again the Zinfandel class with 15 entries was strong and showing much progress in the handling of this variety other than one or two overly sweet wines.
The two most exciting classes to me were 19 (other medium bodied varieties & blends) & 20 (other full bodied varieties & blends) were there were a plethora of different varieties and more significantly blends made from a number of varieties. I am convinced that the future of alternative variety reds is destined to be in blends rather than straight varietals.

Whilst good-great varietal wines such as the Brown Bros Carmenere, Rimfire Touriga National, Symphonia Tannat and Hugh Hamilton “The Oddball” Saperavi will carve out a niche for themselves in this crowed wine world, I am convinced that it is the blends such as Heartland Wines Dolcetto & Lagrein, Pindarrie ‘Bar Rossa’ Tempranillo/ Grenache/Shiraz, Symphonia Wines Quintus Saperavi/Temp/Tannat/Merlot/Cab & Yalumba Hand Picked Tempranillo/Grenache Viognier which will make a bigger and longer lasting impact on the wine drinking public. The blend option allows the winemaker to have greater consistency from vintage to vintage and they are therefore less likely to disappoint/confuse their customers.

Wines made from Alternative varieties have made much progress in the last decade.
The question is, which alternative varieties will come to the forefront in the next decade? It will be interesting to watch the progress over the next ten years and see which names become as well known as Pinot Gris, Viognier, Sangiovese and Tempranillo have become over this decade. My tips are Albarino, Fiano, Tannat and Saperavi.

Article in Bloomberg

October 4, 2007

Today in Bloomberg, there’s an article – Exotic Grapes, From Aglianico to Zweigelt, Now Make Trendy Wine – by Elin Mcoy, their wine columnist and author of The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr., and the Reign of American Taste. It features our very own Don Romano who makes a good case for adventurous wine drinking!

On Language

September 23, 2007

Thanks to Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page for pointing out that DC member Henry Richardson was quoted in William Safire’s On Language column in the New York Times. And if you missed Andrew and Karen’s last article on the club in the Washington Post, you can check it out here.

Counting to 100

September 14, 2007

How ironic. One of the most exclusive clubs in the world, and a true wine snob could never hope to join.

I am sipping a half-full glass of spritzy ‘vinho’ from the Vinho Verde region of Portugal on this unnaturally brisk Tuesday evening. May the millionaires with cellars full of 100 point wines gnash their teeth; it is this bottle’s humble $4.75 price tag that gained me entrance into a different ‘100’ club – the Wine Century Club.

Exclusive, like many things in New York City, the Manhattan-based Wine Century Club has just over 250 members worldwide. According to Deborah and Steve De Long, the Wine Century club, founded in 2005, is “for adventurous wine drinkers everywhere.” Adventurous, indeed. To gain membership, wine drinkers must have tasted wines with a sum total of at least 100 different grape varieties. The Arinto, Azal Branco and Louriera grapes in my wine glass tonight brought my total to 101.

As a wine drinker, I am very lucky to live in the Empire state. Though a wine from halfway around the globe helped me finish my trip, I would be nowhere near the 100 mark without the help of the wide variety of grapes grown in New York. From a Hudson Valley Baco Noir tasted in the cellar at Benmarl Winery to a Heron Hill late-harvest Vignoles sampled at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival, New York wines have given me a lot to savor and enjoy.

Since we are all just a day trip away from both Long Island wineries and the wonderful wine shops of New York City or the Finger Lakes, Niagara and Hudson Valley wine regions, most anywhere in New York is a great place to live for wine lovers.

Determined to get a good jump start on filling up the boxes in my freshly printed Wine Century Club application, this spring I traveled to New York City, rubbing elbows with urban wine lovers at a fabulous and crowded French wine tasting at the Chamber Street wine shop in Manhattan. A pour from legendary Beaujolais producer Jean Paul Brun added Gamay to my list. Later that day I stopped in Little Italy to have dinner, and a glass of the house white helped cross Grechetto off as well. The tasting bar at Vintage New York in Soho is also great place to sample New York wines; a pour of ‘Sculpture Garden’ from Long Island winery Channing Daughters introduced me to Blaufrankisch and Dornfelder.

At the midpoint, with over 50 varietals comfortably under my belt, the going got a little tougher. Having only a few dozen untasted grapes to cross of my list led me to drink any wine I came across. Sure, I was feeling particularly sophisticated as John McGregor of McGregor Vineyard watched expectantly as I sampled his exotic blend of Rkatsiteli and Sereksiya Rose, but I also found myself guiltily bellying up to the bar at a local Elks lodge in working-class Cohoes, NY one night to sample Lambrusco and Riuniti from a plastic cup.

By the time I got into the high 80’s, I was absolutely sure that being adventurous and willing to try something, anything, as long as it’s new, is an essential character trait in a wine lover looking to join the Wine Century Club. I will never forget the first taste of Greek Retsina wine and North Carolina Scuppernong.

Though I do love a glass of wine, my Wine Century club ‘field trips’
taught me more than just how to count grapes and swallow a bunch of exotic fermented juice. Visiting wineries across New York gave me the opportunity to ‘increase my number’ at the same time that the tasting room staff helped me improve my palate. At Pellegrini Winery on Long Island, I tasted chocolate in wine for the first time, and Finger Lakes whites helped me appreciate apricot, honeysuckle and peach aromas. Delicious!

I also learned a lot from attending the Golden Nose Wine Judging in Corning, NY, where I was one of over 50 ‘amateur’ judges charged with choosing the best wines that the Finger Lakes had to offer. I added several native grapes to my list as I tasted and evaluated wine flights for the afternoon competition after enjoying the ‘noses-on’
morning workshop on detecting wine faults.

The quest for 100 grapes also led me to discover the amazing variety of beverages that can all still call themselves wine. I sampled Cava, which is sparkling wine from Spain, and Madeira, a Portugese fortified wine that rose to fame because it actually tasted better after oxidizing during long voyages at sea. Closer to home, fun and fruity wines from native grapes like Catawba, especially Hazlitt Vineyard’s Red Cat wine, are at home on the deck or hot tub – tasting nothing at all like a wine snob’s big tannic red.

After learning about and tasting many, many wines, I have made a few new ‘friends,’ the best two being a Viognier from France and Rkatsiteli, a fruity white from Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport.

Now that I don’t have a wine-stained, dog-eared application sheet to fill out, I have found it hard to stop pulling out dusty bottles from the back shelves of the local wine shop and automatically scanning winery tasting sheets and the wine lists at ethnic restaurants in a desperate search for an untasted varietal. I think my next focus will be in the opposite direction – I’ll pick one grape, like Riesling, and follow it around the world.

In a few weeks I’ll receive my certificate and proudly frame and hang it on my living room wall, but the Wine Century club is more than a piece of paper, it’s a state of mind. It’s a certain type of wine drinker that looks in her backyard and to all corners of the world to learn about her own palate and discover great wines. Wine snobs need not apply.

Kathleen’s Blog is called Wine and Stories from the Vineyard.

Our 2nd Local Chapter: Aiken, SC!

August 28, 2007

I am happy to announce the formation of The Wrath of Grapes chapter of the Wine Century Club in Aiken, South Carolina with 10 members. They completed their journey mostly as a group (3 more are still working on it). Listed in the front from left to right are: Marianne Scogin, Greg Teese, Caroline Teese, Jeff Brault and Fatina Ann Washburn Clark. Those in the back from left to right are: John Scogin, Mark Clark, Steven Delgenio, Ernest Hammond and Bruce McMurray.

Marianne Scogin is the Chapter President.

Congratulations to all the Chapter Members!

Big Article in Today’s Washington Post

August 8, 2007

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Pictured: Wine Century Club Members Maj Capps, left, and William Holby

Two of our most famous members, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, have written another excellent article on the club.

To read it, please go to the Washington Post website.

Hondarrabi Who?

October 6, 2006

In keeping with the theme of Spain (as per the posting by Chris Wilford), I thought I would draw your attention to a recent posting on my blog concerning the grape Hondarrabi Zuri from Spain as it seems fitting for the members of The Wine Century Club.

~Tracy Ellen Kamens, Ed.D., CSW
Grand Cru Classes

100 Bottles of Wine on the Wall

September 26, 2006

New member and wine educator Kelly Magyarics wrote a piece for the Wine Enthusiast: 100 Bottles of Wine on the Wall. It’s about her experience in becoming a member – a good read even if its title is a play on the most mind numbing song of all time.