In my continuing series on new and interesting grapes for the Puget Sound AVA, here is a relatively newcomer from Switzerland called Garanoir. Garanoir is a recently bred grape (well not all that recently, in 1970, but things in the grape world move really slowly) The two parents of Garanoir are Gamay Noir and Reichensteiner. Gamay Noir is decendent of Pinot Noir so and those flavors are passed on to Garanoir. Reichensteiner is a little used white grape but it is mainly descended from Riesling. This grape has a striking similarity in flavors to Pinot but has some other benefits going for it that might make it a good choice for a grower in the Puget Sound AVA.
I love Pinot Noir, don’t get me wrong, but it really is one of the hardest grapes to grow. It likes to grow sideways, instead of upright. If you don’t get your spraying schedule down pat, you can run into serious powdery mildew and bunch rot problems. The vines have a tendency to shut down in cool, wet weather and they tend to hold on to their acid way longer than other grapes.
One of the other problems I have with Pinot in the Puget Sound AVA is a marketing problem. People don’t know Puget Sound AVA wines very well and the people that do think we can only grow whites over on this side of the mountains. People scratch their heads when they have a Puget Sound red wine. It’s a constant battle with the public in general and wine buyers at restaurants and retail. I had one sommelier tell me he didn’t want to put my Pinot on his menu because it would confuse people and it’s too hard to explain what is going on. Whatever… so maybe it’s time to change up the game and not grow widely know grapes and just make the best wines we can in our climate no matter what the grapes are!
Back to the grape, the researchers who bred this grape were trying to find an early ripening red grape that had the attributes of Gamay Noir and/or Pinot Noir, but ripened earlier. They were also going after a higher level of mildew and rot resistance and ripened earlier or as early as Pinot. The good news is that they pretty much nailed it with Garanoir. In my experience, Garanoir has always ripened about the same level of brix as Pinot Noir, BUT the acids are much less. The color is deeper. Also, a really important fact is that it produces a much larger crop than Pinot. Pinot can be pretty miserly when it comes to crop level so having a grape that gave you more grapes per acre is a good thing considering how few acres of grapes are planted around here.
There are about 203 hectares of Garanoir (about 500 acres) grown in Switzerland and quickly expanding. There are smaller amounts being growing in Germany, England, Canada. As far as I know there are probably only a couple of acres grown in the USA probably mostly in the Puget Sound region. For some reason, in British Columbia they have glommed onto it’s sibling, Gamaret, which is supposed to ripen later and gives a bigger wine.
Just a little history on where we got this grape here in the Puget Sound AVA. It was brought into the US (although I’m not sure if he was the first one) by Gary Moulton at the WSU Mt. Vernon Research station where he has planted trials of both grapes. Sometime around the year 2000, he made available excess vines to other growers in the Puget Sound region and that is where I picked up a few Garanoir vines from him and planted them at Maury Island Vineyards. In 2003, when we were shutting down that vineyard, I took cuttings and now have about 25 vines on their own roots that I have been doing research on for almost 10 years. I was lucky enough to make 5 gallons of Garanoir in 2004 from grapes grown at Mt. Vernon. Those wines were very well received and very close in flavor to Pinot. Currently, you can buy vines at the Cloud Mountain Farms nursery in Lynden, WA.
In the Puget Sound AVA we need a unique strategy to grow grapes. Ones that ripen before the October rains move in or can stand up to a fair amount of rain. Regent is a good example of the later and I think Garanoir falls into that bucket too.
I would love to make a single varietal Garanoir in the future if possible, but for now, it will probably end up in a blend with pinot noir and other red grapes I am growing to lower acidity and boost color. I think if I had it to do over again. I would’ve planted enough of this grape to make a barrel of wine. I think Garanoir has shown great promise in the Puget Sound AVA in the 10 or so years I have been researching it in my vineyard and it might be time to start planting more of it!