Is Modern Winegrowing Too Focused on “Varietal”?

Is modern winegrowing too focused on the “varietal”? According to Wine Spectator‘s Matt Kramer, yes. What he means by “varietal” is a preoccupation with specific clonal selection of grapes—and the micromanaging of them—to the detriment of genetic diversity. Prior to phylloxera–the vineyard louse that decimated Europe’s vineyards in the late 19th century, vineyards were generally interplanted with a variety of different clones of grapes, as well as a mix of different varieties—often white and red grapes in the same vineyard.

But today, with grapes like pinot noir, clones are often specifically selected for certain qualities (generally flavor intensity) and each clone separated out into “blocks” and harvested at different times. But in places that have been able to maintain diversity like, for example, Quinta do Crasto’s Maria Teresa vineyard in Portugal’s Douro region, has 47 different varieties planted within an 11.7-acre plot. Kramer argues against the focus on a small number of clones carefully selected for specific flavor profiles and more a greater focus on the “wildflower” approach. Why? You know, the future. Practicing things like sélection massale are the sorts of practices will preserve indigenous varieties, and the character of heritage vineyards, for future generations. [Wine Spectator] [Image: Flickr/Paulo Alegria]