August Véraison: (Permitted) Red Grapes Changing Colour

Here are the six red grape varieties which we are allowed to grow in Bordeaux under Appellation Contrôlée laws. The photos were taken at Château Bauduc at the very start of August and again three weeks later, before and after they changed colour – a stage called véraison. A rule of thumb is that the grapes will be ready to pick some 45 days after mid-véraison. The third shot in each series shows the leaves of each variety, which for me is the easiest way to tell them apart (remembering what you’ve planted and where also helps).

Most of the 117,500 hectares of Bordeaux vineyards are red – 89% in fact. Merlot is the most widely grown variety, with 64% of red, and is the dominant grape on the Right Bank – St.Emilion, Pomerol, Fronsac and the Côtes –  where it is often blended with Cabernet Franc (11%). Merlot is also responsible for the tanker loads of straight Bordeaux AC and less prestigious Appellations across the whole of Bordeaux. In other words, there’s Merlot… and then there’s Merlot.

The later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon (24% of all red) reigns on the gravel mounds of the Left Bank – notably in the Médoc Appellations of Pauillac, St-Julien, St-Estephe and Margaux, where Merlot usually plays second fiddle. The other varieties make up 1% of the total plantings, with Petit Verdot sometimes turning up on the Left Bank (at Châteaux like Pichon Lalande and La Lagune) and Malbec on the Right, especially in Blaye. Malbec is the grape of Cahors, 200 kms SE of here, and is most successful in Argentina. Likewise, you’re more likely to find Carmenère in Chile.