Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Merlot history

We do not know anything specific about the origins of Merlot. Thanks to the characteristics of its foliage and the bouquet of its wine, we can say that Merlot, like the Cabernets, is part of the line of Carmenets. In addition, the place of appearance of Merlot could be in the Libournais area. It is indeed in this region that “Merlau” is mentioned for the first time. This is also the area where the most Merlot is planted at the moment.

Carmenet is an old Médoc synonym for Cabernet Franc. It is also the name given to the Bordeaux family of wine-grape varieties by Levadoux in 1948 in his classification of France's ampelographical assemblage into eco-geogroups, varieties grouped by their region of origin and genetic relationships.

The Carmenet eco-geogroup of varieties from the region of Bordeaux includes the blood relatives Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Gros Cabernet, Merlot, Merlot Blanc and Hondarribi Beltza.

Cabernet Franc is involved as a parent or grandparent of all of these varieties.

Fer and Hondarribi Beltza are natives of the País Vasco, the Basque area of Spain on the French border, and are the grandparents of Carmenère. As one of the grandparents of Carmenère, Fer is included in the noble house of Carmenet.

The Carmenet family also includes Petit Verdot, which has no genetic relationship with the Cabernet family and probably was domesticated from wild grapevines of the Pyrénées- Atlantiques region south of Bordeaux.

The Carmenet eco-geogroup does not include the important Bordeaux varieties Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc despite their genetic links with other members of the Carmenet group, Malbec sharing a mother with Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc as the mother of Cabernet Sauvignon.


 Merlot is not mentioned in technical documents until the end of the 18th century. It was first mentioned in the Luxembourg garden collection, under the name of Merlot or Bigney rouge, before 1789. However, the real first botanical description, with a colored plate, dates from RENDU (1857). According to this author, "it goes well with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon and it is admitted in the Grands Crus of the Médoc". Likewise, PETIT-LAFITTE (1868) wrote: “in Médoc, it is the most important blending grape variety although this way of acting does not go back very far. Its blending with Cabernet wine must ensures more lightness, more delicacy, more mellowness and also it will also acquire the desired properties more quickly”. As robins (blackbirds) eagerly seek it or even because of its color, it was given the name of this bird: Merlot (petit merle: small blackbird).

Other synonyms were used: Merlotoir, Merlau, Plant Médoc, Sémillon rouge, Alicante, Béguey, Picard, Crabutet noir, Sème dou flube (Plant from the river), Sémilhoun rouge and Biguey rouge. “Biguey”, in Gascon, designates a large vine planted in a trellis in front of the house. It is therefore a variety capable of acquiring significant developmentIt could therefore just as well designate a very vigorous grape variety as is the case of Merlot. As for the denomination "Sémillon rouge", it undoubtedly alludes to a certain morphological analogy with Sémillon B or to the origin of grape variety: a seedling. We also find this idea in the names "Plant Médoc" or "Sème dou flube".

This grape variety has morphological homogeneity, which tends to prove its recent origin. Merlot is the most planted grape variety in Bordeaux. In Aquitaine, it is only present in three departments: Dordogne, Lot-et-Garonne and Gironde. 

In Gironde, Merlot is the most planted grape variety (40% of the total area was Merlot in 1988) and it occupy around 50% of the area of ​​the Gironde vineyard today. However, even in 1950, Merlot was a secondary grape in some wine regions . It was considered a producer of coarse wines and susceptible to coulure. However, in 50 years two major events have allowed it to become one of the main grape varieties in Gironde. It was planted considerably after the frost of 1956 because of  its speed of  fruit setting. In addition, during the reconversion of the Bordeaux vineyard area, it was used a lot because it gives wines that age earlier than those of the Cabernets. At the start of the 1960s, it was already the most planted red grape variety in Gironde. The surface area of Merlot has continued to increase since that time in the Bordeaux vineyards,