A Reluctant Look at French Grapes Outside of France #Winophiles

Jancis Robinson’s Tome “Wine Grapes” includes profiles of 1,368 wine grapes grown worldwide. Commercial success aside, I’d love to see more of the other 1,362.

My French Grapes Outside of France Rant
Our French Winophiles are exploring French Grapes outside of France this month. I was fully prepared to just skip this month as I’m firmly in the camp of “Does the world really need ANOTHER source of Cabernet Sauvignon?” The “big six” French grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are grown all around the world from China to Moldova, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, California. Antarctica is the only continent where these monster French grapes aren’t grown. To the best of my knowledge. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for a bunch of less crabby posts from my fellow Winophiles!

End of Rant
I love French grapes (even the big six), and I’m truly happy to see occasions where lesser known varieties are experimented with and embraced. Anyone for Trousseau Gris and Pinot Meunier?

William Allen of Two Shepherds Vineyards
Since my first visit back in 2012, I’ve been a fan and a wine club member of Two Shepherds Vineyards.  William has always had a passion especially for Rhône varieties, but also lesser known grapes sourced from small family vineyards all around California. All his wines are small lots with grapes harvested while they still have good acidity, low intervention in the winery and no chemical adjustments or inputs save a small amount of sulfur dioxide at bottling.  These wines could be referred to as natural wines, in fact, Two Shepherds participates in Isabelle Legeron’s Raw Wine fairs. William prefers to market his wines as pristine and extremely well made; he has no tolerance for the faults that some low intervention winemakers explain away. This requires scrupulous cleanliness in the winery and intense attention to detail.  And if/when a barrel takes a turn for the worse, he dumps it, as it doesn’t meet his standards.

I didn’t need to look through my supply very long to find a couple of good examples of French grapes outside of France, but well outside the super-popular varieties.

Skin fermented Trousseau Gris is pretty rare, but well worth searching out!

Trousseau Gris
The Trousseau grape hails originally from the Jura Region in eastern France. Still popular in the Jura, the grape has many aliases, but none of them are prominent grapes where they are found. Trousseau Gris, a color mutation of Trousseau was once popular all around California, but now has largely disappeared except for one place. An entire block of Trousseau Gris was planted back in 1981 in the Fannucchi vineyard, the source of our wine today. Taking it one step further, William Allen fermented the Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris on the grape skins, the technique typically used for red wines. Skin-fermented white wines are typically referred to as ‘orange’ wines for obvious reasons.

Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris Skin Fermented, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley 2019 ($30 winery direct) 12.3% abv
Eye: Deep orange
Nose: Medium plus intensity aromas of honeysuckle, orange rind, red plum, dried apricot, leather, forest floor.
Mouth: Dry, medium acidity, low silky tannins, medium body with round texture, medium alcohol, medium plus flavor intensity, long finish. Flavors of honeysuckle, orange rind, red plum, dried apricot, leather, forest floor.
Conclusions: The color and aromas are different, but this wine drinks very much like a red wine, which makes perfect sense as the winemaking process is so similar.

A rare sight outside of Champagne, and even more rare as a single varietal still red wine.

Pinot Meunier
Pinot Meunier is a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape, as are Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. It’s most common as one of the three main grapes used in Champagne, and in that region it’s typically called just Meunier.  The underside of the vine leaves have a powdery white look, almost as if they have been dusted with flour. In French, a Meunier is a miller or flour maker. While popular in Champagne, it is only grown in very small amounts in scattered cool sites around the world. In California, there were 163 acres planted as of 2010.

Two Shepherds Pinot Meunier Hopkins Vineyard Russian River Valley 2015 ($44 winery direct) 12.3% abv
Eye: Pale ruby color
Nose: medium intensity aromas of roses, ripe cherries, strawberries, cinnamon, subtle forest floor.
Mouth: Dry, medium acidity, medium body with a soft texture, medium alcohol, medium plus intensity flavors and a medium plus finish. Flavors of ripe cherries, strawberries, cinnamon, a touch of rosemary, forest floor.
Conclusions: I’ve had Meunier as a component in many Champagnes and even had a few which featured the grape. This was a fun way to try the grape solo and as a still red wine. The overall impression is similar to a fruity Pinot Noir, but with a softer texture and a bit less acidity.

Trousseau Gris and Pinot Meunier at the Dinner Table

Fellow Winophiles Discoveries of French Grapes Outside of France
Take a look at all the non-crabby posts below, then join our chat on Saturday, March 20 from 10-11:00am CDT. I will have cheered up for sure by then! We chat at #Winophiles on Twitter.

16 Responses to “A Reluctant Look at French Grapes Outside of France #Winophiles”
  1. Generally I share your rant! More native grapes please! But…that aside I’m so curious about Trousseau Gris. I have no opportunity for trying Jura wines and that grape at least hasn’t made it to turkey yet. The Two Shepherds skin-contact Trousseau sounds wonderful.

  2. culinarycam says:

    Thanks for joining…and for shining the spotlight on some beautiful grapes and a fantastic winemaker. Now I need to get my hands on more of his wines. Cheers.

  3. I too am a big fan of the Two Shepherds wines. Thanks for shining the spotlight on two-lesser known grape varieties that deserve some love!

  4. advinetures says:

    First off, your title is certainly an attention getter ;). Love that you chose lesser know grape varieties and both sound like wines we need to try. We’ve heard nothing but good things about Two Shepherds and can’t wait to get our hands on some to try it for ourselves!

  5. Haha, that’s how we felt also!! We went with Bordeaux blends so we could talk about a number of grapes all at once! PS Love his wines!

  6. Looks like we were both on the Two Shepherds bandwagon this month! It’s a tasty place to be. I look forward to being able to visit the winery one day.

  7. Pinny Tam says:

    Would definite check out Two Shepherds via their trade partners in New York. Never tried Trousseau Gris before too.

  8. robincgc says:

    I love that he is championing these varieties that fewer people are familiar with. I have started to fall for the Jura (thanks to some #Winophiles deep dives). I had my first still Pinot Meunier in Australia in the Orange Region. The winery is sparkling based but created a still wine from the Pinot Meunier also. I have to admit, it is my favorite of the Champagne grapes.

  9. I, for one, am thrilled to see French grapes outside of France. Where would the wine world be without New Zealand sauvignon blancs and Argentine malbecs? Also, thanks to this month’s theme, I am now obsessed with my local Ontario gamays. Glad you were able to find some lesser-known grapes/wines for the theme. I’d never even heard about Trousseau gris before this week, so thanks for expanding my horizons!

  10. Nicole Ruiz Hudson says:

    Two super fun grapes! I was having a little love fest with Trousseau Gris last year and have been enjoying seeing takes of Pinot Meunier from CA pop up. I’ll definitely have to keep an eye out for these.

  11. Jill Barth says:

    I’ve been able to taste a couple of Two Shepherds wines, but like you mention here, I know their wine club members are super happy. It’s hard to go wrong (even if they aren’t in France 🙂 …. Thanks Jeff!

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