In recent years acronyms have become part of common parlance, also in the wine industry. One such is GMS or rather the blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Shiraz.

Except for France where it has long been prevalent, it has also attracted the interest of winemakers in various new world wine countries. Mourvèdre plays a very important role in these blends.

Spanish in origin, this cultivar, also known as Monastrell or Mataro, is a vigorous grower that ripens late and has specific preferences with regard to climate, locality, plant material and viticultural practices. An old saying goes: “Mourvèdre needs its feet in water, head up in the sun and to see the sea” but although there is much truth in this, it should be interpreted using common sense. The right balance between sunshine, rainfall and humidity is of critical importance as it prefers a specific microclimate, proximity to water, high altitude and soil composition. Mourvèdre wines are often described as reductive and have specific tannin characteristics requiring specific phenolic ripeness.

In Europe it flourishes in specific regions near the Mediterranean, although it is often described as a Rhene cultivar. The original home of the cultivar is the regions Murcia and Valencia in the east of Spain. It plays an important role in the Alicante Jumilla regions of origin, where it occurs on sandy loam and limestone soils at heights ranging from 480 to 960 m about 80 km from the ocean. The average annual rainfall is 300 mm with an average annual temperature of 17C. In the Bandol region of origin between Toulon and Marseilles with an annual rainfall of 560 to 660 mm, where cold Mistral winds often prevail, all AOC red wines should contain at least 50% Mourvèdre. The general belief there is that the cultivar requires a lot of sunshine for ripening, but suffers when it becomes very dry and hot. Although it is often considered a Rhene cultivar, it occupies only 1 to 2% of the plantings in Cetes du Rhene and 6% of the well-known Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The latter is considered to be the northernmost area for successful ripening.

In California it occurs to a limited extent with a total surface of only 829 acres in 2004, although it has been evaluated from 1984 onwards. One of the reasons for the limited occurrence is that suitable localities had been planted to more popular cultivars. The general preference, however, is for relatively cool sites with clay limestone soils to ensure late ripening.

Although also limited, the majority of Mourvèdre vineyards in Australia occur in the warm Barossa region. The d’Arenberg winery in McLarenvale near Adelaide is one of the pioneers as regards GSM blends or Mourvèdre per se. The most suitable vineyards are situated against hill slopes with clay and ironstone or limestone soils about 14 km from the ocean where excessive vigour is restricted and small berries are obtained.

Charles Back of Fairview is deemed to be the South African pioneer of Mourvèdre and has already planted 62 acres to this cultivar. Most of the vineyards occur in Malmesbury near the ocean at heights of 370 m where the changes in temperature promote good ripening.

There are different clones, viz. numbers 1069, 369, 247, 249 and a Davis clone, and the style of the wine is influenced more by the clone than by vinification practices. The general opinion is that bush vines produce the best results, although properly managed trellised vines may also be successful.

The question is often asked whether it would be better to market Mourvèdre as a cultivar or as a blend. As a cultivar it has very prominent mulberry and blackberry flavours and may also be high in fixed acids and tannins. It therefore has characteristics that are acceptable on its own or in blends. Grenache may also contribute more fruit and the softness of Shiraz may also be complementary (James, 2006).

In South Africa it occurs mostly in Stellenbosch (19%), Paarl (33%) and Malmesbury (35%) and the total surface has increased by 78% from 2003 to 2005 (Sawis, 2007).

Only one French clone, MT 11, is currently available in South Africa, but new clones were imported from Australia in 2005 and are currently being propagated. The temperatures during ripening, especially the minimum temperatures, must be high to obtain sufficient sugar levels and it is therefore more suitable for the warmer areas (Visser, 2007).

References:

James, Richard. 2006. Understanding Mourvèdre. Wine Business Monthly August 2006: 30 – 34.
Sawis. 2007. Personal communication.
Visser, Charles. 2007. Personal communication.

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