Mourvedre in the Vineyard
January 15, 2013
When you hear of a Rhône GSM blend, the “M” is Mourvèdre (pronounced more-ved-ruh). Some say it is similar in style to Tempranillo. It is often blended with Syrah in order to improve its color. However, when the size of the crop is properly managed in the vineyard it can be a beautiful wine.
Look it up in the California Agricultural Statistics Service (I’m not kidding, it is called CASS). Mourvèdre is native to Spain, where it is called Monastrell. It was then brought to the Rhône region of France, where it was widely planted and established as one of the 13 varietals allowed in the famous Rhône blend, Châteauneuf-du-pape. In the mid-1800’s Mourvèdre arrived in California but was used primarily for jug wines. By the late 1900’s, interest in Mourvèdre as a premium grape variety picked up as regions in California began producing high-quality Rhône varietal wines and blends.
There are about 944 acres planted in California (as of 2011 statistics), of which 210 are in San Luis Obispo County. To put it in perspective, there are 77,602 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in California.
Mourvèdre is a very aggressive growing grape that loves hot weather. It is always the last variety in our vineyard to ripen and we are in the hotter, eastern part of the Paso Robles AVA. Clusters can be enormous, up to ¾ of a pound each, so it is important to thin clusters during the summer to ensure the plants have enough vigor to ripen the grapes properly. There are several methods used to thin fruit, our favorites are: (1) remove clusters so that the plants average 1½ clusters per cane and (2) remove the fattest part of the large clusters, leaving the “wings” or top parts of the overall clusters to ripen.
Our goal is to get the production down to about 4-5 tons per acre. Without this thinning, in a good growing year Mourvèdre vines could carry as much as 8 tons an acre, which is why it was used as a jug wine. At this level, the grapes may not ripen properly, leaving the resulting wine lighter in color, weaker in flavor, and possibly very low in brix (sugars). Low sugar means low alcohol. At 4-5 tons per acre, it has very nice white pepper and blackberry notes that pair well with poultry or meaty kinds of fish, like Halibut and Tuna. My favorite pairing is with a Blackened Tuna.
Mourvèdre is known as a “hand sell” in the marketplace because it is not commonly known by consumers, but once it is tried, it is liked. It is a favorite among our wine club members. It can be found in many GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre) blends, but not more than a handful of wineries make it as a stand-alone wine.
Try it, you’ll like it!