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Why are grape varieties important in making wine?

Everyone knows, wine comes from the processing of grapes. But many do not know whether the choice and quality of the grape variety are important in the making of wine. Can you make wine with any variety of grapes? And what are the impacts of the grape variety on the wine ? Let's find out.

What is a varietal ?

First of all, it is important to remember what a grape variety is. Although novices in wine tasting often confuse it with the appellation, the grape variety actually designates the variety of the vine . We then distinguish:

  • Black grape varieties , such as Grenache Noir, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon. They are mainly used to produce red wines, but also rosé wines;
  • White grape varieties , such as chardonnay, chenin blanc, or even viognier. They are mainly used in the composition of white wines and rosé wines.

Wine grape variety and table grape variety

Generally speaking, there are two categories of grape varieties: those that we consume as fruit, and which we call table grape varieties , and those which we use to make wine, which we call wine grape varieties .

All are edible, and it is entirely possible to eat wine grapes or make wine with table grapes. But the characteristics are not ideal, the wine risks being too sweet or too alcoholic, while the wine grapes on the palate are often very acidic.

The grape varieties in a few figures

In France, more than 300 different grape varieties are listed. Considering the 6,000 grape varieties used throughout the world, this may not seem like much, but it is actually enormous, in proportion to the size of the territory. France is, in fact, a region particularly suitable for viticulture.

We then find many indigenous grape varieties , but also grape varieties from other countries, more or less distant.

And to go into detail, of the thousands of grape varieties used around the world, a good dozen alone represent more than 30% of the world's wine-growing area.

The classification of grape varieties

Originally, vines were classified into grape varieties, mainly based on their physical characteristics (shape of leaves, size and color of grapes, etc.). This study of vines intended for the production of wine, called ampelography , remains very empirical, and is not of much use to winegrowers.

It is up to them, then, to study the different grapes, to discover the grape varieties best suited to the terroir . Indeed, each black or white grape variety has particular predispositions to develop, depending on the type of soil, or even depending on climatic conditions.

But the choice of a vineyard's grape variety also relates to the expected characteristics of a wine. Because each grape variety offers aromas, a color, and unique characteristics to the wines.

Preserve the characteristics of a grape variety

To ensure that a grape variety maintains the same characteristics, whatever the vineyard where it is grown, and whatever the vintage, winegrowers use different reproduction techniques.

The grafting technique

The most widely used grape variety reproduction technique in the wine world is grafting . It was necessary, in fact, to find a solution to counter the fact that the seeds of a grape do not produce the same vine. Oenologists then had the idea of ​​making two different varieties of grapes coexist on the same vine. We then obtain two parts:

  • A species which serves as a support, or rootstock ;
  • A species that serves as a scion , and uses the rootstock to produce leaves and fruit.

The advantage is to be able to take advantage of the qualities of the two grape varieties, in order to obtain a powerful root system, which will fight, among other things, against vine diseases.

After the attack of phylloxera, at the end of the 19th century, it was an American rootstock, more resistant against this aphid, which succeeded in saving the majority of French vineyards.

The layering technique

Layering is another vine reproduction technique, which involves burying a vine branch . Roots will then form, giving a subject identical to the previous one. This technique is very old, we find references to it in writings from the 2nd century BC.

The technique of cloning and mass selection

Before the 1970s, winegrowers used the mass selection technique. In other words, they selected their best vines, and planted their branches directly in the ground.

Cloning has taken over, and uses a much more advanced technique of analyzing vine plants, in order to remove a unique strain and reproduce it identically .

The grape variety therefore has an important, even essential, role in the making of wine . It is the basis of every good vintage, and is the subject of meticulous work on the part of the winemaker and the oenologist.

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