Exploring Indigenous Grape Varieties and Preserving Heritage in Winemaking

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For centuries, winemakers have relied on several varieties to carry them through the ups and downs of climatic change and consumer taste shifts. However, a global movement is underway to reclaim indigenous grapes that have lost prominence recently, many of which were once the mainstay of local wine cultures. Choose the Indigenous Grape Varieties.

The three presenters for this webinar are Jerry Eisterhold, proprietor of TerraVox Vineyards, where more than 60 indigenous North American grape varieties have been planted and used to produce a unique set of wines; Clark Smith, one of America’s winemaking innovators; and Stephen Casscles, author, educator, consultant and longtime student of the country’s native varietals, will share their insights into the potential for indigenous grapes to help us create exciting new wines that are true to their place in history.

Many of today’s indigenous grapes have risen from obscurity through the work of dedicated winemakers. In addition, scientific advancements and DNA analysis are playing a critical role in their recovery.

The global wine industry’s interest in these varieties is fueled by the desire to produce wines that are truly unique and expressive of their place of origin. These wines offer a fresh perspective on the world’s rich heritage of winemaking and provide consumers with a deeper connection to wine’s past and its culture of innovation.

With some luck, many of these grapes could return to mainstream global wine consumption. But for now, they are primarily being grown by wineries specializing in small production, limited distribution, and natural wines.

Some countries are reclaiming their ancient grapes with more incredible speed than others. Georgia has an extraordinary cornucopia of native varieties (estimates vary, but a minimum of 400 can be assumed) and claims to be the world’s oldest wine culture. Unfortunately, Phylloxera nearly destroyed these varieties, and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union brought further misery. But since 2006, plantings of Furmint and Harslevelu have made waves worldwide, as have Romania’s Feteasca Neagra and Moldova’s Bogdanovic.

Other regions are working to safeguard their heirlooms as well. For example, Portugal has hundreds of indigenous grape varieties, including Touriga Nacional and Alvarinho. And the renowned French ampelographer Pierre Galet has founded an emergency conservatory in the Alps to save cultivars such as Bia, Onchette, Sereneze, Mondeuse Blanche, and Servanin from extinction.

But it is Italy that may have the most incredible wealth of indigenous varietals. After a period of trying to please the masses with Merlot and Chardonnay, Italian winemakers are returning to their roots, discovering that the indigenous grapes are better suited to local microclimates and are more effective at expressing terroir.

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