Merlot N

@ Gilles Cattiau / INRA

Originally from the Bordeaux vineyard, this grape variety is about 200 years old and is the most evolved form of the Carmenets family. The Bordeaux synonyms Seme fou Flute, Seme de la Canau suggest that it comes from seedlings on islands next to Médoc in the Gironde estuary. Ampelographer Cazeaux Cazalet (in Viala and Vermorel, 1910) thinks this is recent history. Other authors, such as Count Odard (1854) and Petit Laffite mention it as a “secondary grape variety matching the vineyard”. According to these same authors, the relative resistance of Merlot to powdery mildew, compared to other varieties from the same family, explains its development in the Gironde, Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne.

Merlot’s recent introduction in the Midi-Pyrénées, where it’s only adapted well in Condomois (Gers), Cahors (Lot) and on the hillsides of Gaillac (Tarn), in clay and limestone soils. Introduced in the region of Saint-Mont (Gers) and on the acidic sandy clay soils, it has not given good results; however, it has adapted well over several decades in Veneto Julienne (Italy), which has a microclimate similar to Bordeaux.

A 2010 genetic study demonstrates that the father of Merlot is Cabernet Franc. Because of its roundness and charming profile, Merlot is without doubt one of the most appreciated grape varieties worldwide.

Its vines produce cottony white buds with carmine edging, with young green leaves with bronze patches. Adult leaves are quinquelobed, tormented, have very marked lateral sinuses and an open U-shaped petiolar sinus. Merlot produces medium-sized bunches with grapes of intense color. Its buds early and matures faster than other Carmenets.

An early budburst makes Merlot sensitive to spring frosts. It is also very sensitive to gray mold at harvest time and “coulure” (failure of the fruit to set). Its wine is fine but requires long aging or blending, in particular with Cabernet Franc.

In Bordeaux, Merlot is called “payse” because it behaves well in this region and particular climate, which would explain failures in some neighboring departments such as Tarn-et-Garonne and Haute-Garonne.

Merlot is widespread in the southwest, with the exception of the Pyrenean vineyards and the boulbènes (acidic sandy clay soils) of the Fronton vineyard (Haute-Garonne). Its development has now spread to Languedoc-Rousillon region and around the world.

Merlot wines are very supple and offer generous aromas of black fruits (cherry, wild blackberry, plum, prune) which have largely contributed to its international success. Additional aromas are of leather, spices, strawberry jam, game, licorice, undergrowth, truffle, violet… It expresses its talents particularly well on clay-limestone soils, for example in Gaillac.

Productions area: 8,661 ha (21,402 acres)

@ Gilles Cattiau / INRA