"Working the Land" (Viticulture)

Viticulture: Grenache Blanc At-A-Glance
Vigor (low/high)
Relatively easy to grow. Moderately to highly vigorous and managed by rootstock selection, crop thinning, spacing and clone matching, as well as, where legal, managed irrigation. Lends itself to “gobelet” or “head training;” it is required by appellation law to be cultivated in this manner in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Good resistance to wind, an erect bearing and well adapted to drought conditions (gravelly, stony soils). Like other types of Grenache, Grenache Blanc is susceptible to magnesium deficiency.
Yield (potential)
Left unchecked, yields can be high. For quality, depending on vigor and winemaker intent, green harvesting for concentration of flavor and color depth can be practiced, since high yields equate to diluted flavors and low berry pigmentation. This variety is susceptible to potentially very high sugar levels (good for dessert/fortified styles)
Growth cycle
Relatively mid-season budding, but late-ripening (hence need for warmer climates)
Grenache Blanc is highly sensitive to gray rot (Botrytis cinerea), phomopsis, downy mildew and bacterial diseases. On the other hand, it is rarely affected by powdery mildew, vine leafhoppers and mites, and is less sensitive to coulure than Grenache Noir

Growing and Making Grenache Blanc (In California)

For years, Grenache Blanc has been vinified as a single variety in Spain and France. But, as referenced earlier, it wasn’t until 1992, when it was introduced to California’s Central Coast and after Tablas Creek grafted Grenache Blanc vines onto rootstock at its vineyards in Paso Robles, that California growers at large began to appreciate the variety’s potential in the Golden State. Boom! Success! After that, it didn’t take long for other New World winemakers looking to meet the demand for alternative whites beyond Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to follow suit. 

Although reference books refer to Grenache Blanc as a producer of “fat” white wines normally low in acidity, by picking early enough, California producers have found that they can craft perfectly crisp, zesty white wines of refreshing clarity and natural acidity, even without blending with higher acid grapes like Marsanne, Picpoul, and yes, even Viognier.

Working the Land:

Does soil influence the flavor of the final wine?

Traditionalists answer unequivocally, “Yes!” Soil is a key element of “terroir,” the natural environment in which vines grow, along with climate (temperature, rainfall), topography (altitude, drainage, slope, aspect), and sunlight.

A more unorthodox view holds that the influence of soil on what you taste in the glass is a myth. Maynard Amerine and Ann Noble, two famous names at UC Davis, California’s premier wine school and research facility, conducted a study on the topic. Though the study is based on Chardonnay grapes, they concluded that the following holds true for all wine grapes: “No outstanding sensory differences were observed in wines produced from different soil type locations.” The key word is “sensory” (sight, smell, taste). They are not claiming that soil doesn’t affect vine behavior (yield, growth cycle, etc.). 

Like Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc is pruned to spurs, head-trained, and known to be drought- and heat-tolerant — but leaf cover of bunches is desirable to protect it from sunburn. Look it up, and you will find that aside from wineries and vineyards purchasing from Tablas Creek or grafting massal selections from their own existing vineyards, there’s little happening in the way of registered, heat-treated plant material in the U.S. Indeed, there are no selections available via UC Davis FPS nursery. France’s ENTAV-INTER holds four clonal selections carrying the numbers 141, 143, 1213, and 1349.

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Sustainability and California

As an agricultural industry, the California wine community has a long history of adapting to change and demonstrating its commitment to sound environmental practices and social responsibility. Building on these efforts are the educational and certification programs of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA). Established by Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers, CSWA is the most comprehensive and widely adopted wine sustainability program in the world, and– together with other important sustainability programs in regions throughout the state– has made California wine a leader in addressing climate change.