History

French in origin, Pinot Gris has been known from the Middle Ages in the Burgundy area. It spread from Burgundy, along with Pinot Noir, reaching Switzerland by 1300. Over time, it has been successfully propagated throughout the world, in the course of which it has acquired on various local names and synonyms: Pinot Beurot in Burgundy, Malvoisie in the Loire Valley and Switzerland, Auxerrois Gris in Alsace, Fromentau in Languedoc, Tokay d’Alsace (now renamed Pinot Gris) in Alsace, Ruländer or Grauer Burgunder in Germany and Austria, Szürkebarát in Hungary, and Pinot Grigio, of course, in Italy. And all this by the early 1700s! California’s connection with the grape grew out of the thirst of an insatiable consumer base that essentially helped drain Italy of all they could get their hands on. Not one to overlook an obvious opportunity, California began its own plantings in earnest some 30 years ago from an almost non-existent base.

California Pinot Gris/Grigio Timeline

First Annual Report of the Board of State Viticultural Commissioners reported that the only true Burgundy grape in Santa Clara County in 1881 was a Pinot Gris, which had been misnamed "Gray Riesling”

UC Davis professors Amerine and Winkler did not recommend planting Pinot Gris in California because it produced a darker white wine than desirable, and one not particularly distinguishable from those of other similar varieties

David Lett takes cuttings of Pinot Gris from California’s UC Davis and plants them in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The grape took well, and the variety fast became a signature bookend to Pinot Noir. By the way, there were ZERO commercial plantings on the West Coast at that time.

Just a few acres of Pinot Gris planted in California

By now, 27 hectares (68 acres) had been planted in the state, more than half in Santa Barbara and Napa counties.

57 hectares (140 acres) planted to Pinot Gris

Supermarket sales of domestic and imported brands of Pinot Gris/Grigio grew from 530,000 cases in 1999 to 741,000 cases in 2000 -- a 40 percent increase.

In the space of just four years, plantings had grown to 502 hectares (1,241 acres) of fruit-bearing vines

Researchers at UC Davis determined that Pinot Gris has a remarkably similar DNA profile to Pinot Noir, and that the color difference arises from a genetic mutation that occurred centuries ago. The leaves and vines of both varieties are so similar that the difference in coloration is the only visible distinction between the two

Researchers at UC Davis determined that Pinot Gris has a remarkably similar DNA profile to Pinot Noir, and that the color difference arises from a genetic mutation that occurred centuries ago. The leaves and vines of both varieties are so similar that the difference in coloration is the only visible distinction between the two

Pinot Gris/Grigio, as most wine drinkers know, runs the gamut: it can be genuinely sublime or truly insipid. As consumer awareness of the grape and its wines grew in the 1990s, it became a victim of its own success. Italian producers often emphasized volume over quality, to keep up with endless demand, hence creating the joke of Pinot Grigio being Italian for “no flavor.” Bottles of simple, easy-drinking imported wine flooded shelves across the U.S., which diluted the grape’s once-heralded reputation. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow noted in his celebrated poem, and aptly applied to this grape (as well as the little girl in the poem), “When she was good, she was very good indeed, but when she was bad, she was horrid.” Notwithstanding, Pinot Gris/Grigio has become one of the world’s most popular grapes precisely because it is capable of a range of styles and flavors, depending on where it is grown and the winemaker’s vision, and relatively easy to grow.