Swiss Grapes — The Twins: Gamaret & Garanoir

Whenever I think of Gamaret, I invariably think of its less assertive twin, Garanoir. And whenever my mind thinks in pairs like that, it invariably settles on the Silva sisters, Sheila and Sonja. The dreaded sisters were among my most formidable childhood antagonists and the first set of twins to enter my consciousness as classmates in kindergarten. I remember them mostly for their coordinated, sneak-attack kisses during recess, which, for the sake of my budding manhood, I was obliged to resist.

The fact is, they were my first crush.

Years later, while admitting to this crush, I can safely say I’m not yet crushing on Garanoir or Gamaret, but I do know which of them I prefer. It’s like with the Silva sisters: my preference is for the more polished and less aggressive of the two — that would be Sonja and Garanoir.

A Budding Casanova

Despite my preference for Garanoir, Gamaret is the undisputed lover of the family and it should be included on any list of  vinifera Casanovas. Like its grandparent, the prodigious Gouais blanc —progenitor of Chardonnay and Riesling — Gamaret is compiling an impressive string of conquests of its own. When you consider Gouais blanc’s ancient history, it’s downright remarkable to think that Gamaret — at age fifty — is moving towards legendary status itself. To be fair, Gamaret never played the field like Gouais blanc; instead, its dance-card was stuffed with comely, rigorously selected partners to build upon its single greatest attribute — resistance to grey mold (botrytis).

 

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Garanoir

 

Since 1965 Agroscope Pully in Switzerland has been a leader in vine-breeding experiments, in particular the disease resistant crosses of Frankish and Hunnic varieties. Their most successful to date is Gamaret which is a botrytis resistant cross of Gamay noir and the German white variety Reichensteiner. It was bred with disease resistance in mind but came with fringe benefits: early ripening and a dark purple color that aligns perfectly with its other avowed purpose — to add bulk to lighter Swiss reds. This fortuitous cross yielded three siblings, two of which, Gamaret and Garanoir, are now well established in Swiss vineyards. The third sibling, Mara, was released twenty years later but has yet to make an impact. Each was bred for slightly different characteristics.

All are early-ripening, low acid and low sugar varieties that, because they are botrytis resistant, can be left on the vine past phenolic ripeness for extra sugar accumulation. Fortunately, the low acids seem to stabilize during this process. The downside is the difficult balancing act required to maintain structural integrity at lower acids and greater sweetness. 

While my preference is for the lighter, plum-flavored and distinctly floral Garanoir —bred for the north of Switzerland — local growers and breeders seem to prefer Gamaret for winemaking and further breeding experiments.

More to Come

A second wave of vinifera crosses using Gamaret has culminated in new-to-market offspring Cabernello (Cabernet Franc), Merello (Merlot), Gamarello (Merlot), Cornarello (Humagne Rouge) and Nerelo (Nebbiolo). Each is imbued with Gamaret’s resistance to botrytis and the organoleptic qualities of the more famous parent. All were released in 2016 but are yet to be widely planted in Switzerland.

Unfortunately, grey mold is not the only fungal disease known to afflict the vinifera species — downy and powdery mildew are the other two.

The hot pursuit of multi-resistant varieties includes a third wave of Gamaret crosses at Pully. The most successful to date is that between Gamaret and Bronner, a white hybrid from Germany with a strong resistance to downy and powdery mildew. Their offspring Divico (red) and Divona (white) are reputed to be the first multi-resistant varieties in the world. While American breeders of the hybrid cross Arandell may argue who was first — both were released in 2013 — Divico seems like a real player in the quality game with the higher percentage of vinifera genes. Arrandel’s main advantages over Gamaret are its winter-hardiness and phylloxera resistance even when own-rooted. Both are bred for their own particular environments.

Migration

As powerful evidence of its quality, Gamaret is now a permitted component of several AOCs in France, notably in Beaujolais since 2009, but also in the Languedoc, the Loire Valley and Provence. It is also finding favor in the mountain vineyards of Aosta since it is perfectly adapted to cool climate, high elevation locales. 

Gamaret and Garanoir were early travelers to the West Coast of the United States where Washington State University researchers obtained both in 1999 for testing in the cool and wet Puget Sound AVA. Local growers were looking for a variety with Pinot noir characteristics that would ripen west of the Cascades. Garanoir did well in these trials but it was Pinot noir Précoce (Frühburgunder) that ultimately prevailed.

Gamaret is also present in Canada where it has been studied in British Columbia and is planted in Quebec province where its winter-hardiness is being tested with some success. Indeed the Centre for Plant Health on Vancouver Island in British Columbia was the source of both Gamaret and Garanoir plant material for the Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis in 2013.

Not all the news is good, however. Early Gamaret plantings in Vaud and Geneva are exhibiting an extreme susceptibility to the trunk disease, esca, and both varieties are known to be vulnerable to the phytoplasma disease, flavescence dorée.

Three Stellar Garanoirs from Geneva

As a relatively young family of grapes there is a lot of variability among producers and more than a little lousy wine, but there is enough evidence to suggest that Gamaret and Garanoir can produce some interesting wines. Here are three of my favorites.

2016 Garanoir, Clos des Gondettes, Dardagny, Geneva: Translucent garnet in color. Nice aromas of ripe plum and sweet berries. There is a bit of rhubarb and earthy root vegetables as well. Overall fresh, clean and well delineated. This is brighter than one expects from this family of bio-types (Gamaret, Garanoir and Mara) which can veer towards muddiness when not well handled.

2017 Garanoir, Domaine Dugerdil, “IndiGenève”, Dardagny, Geneva: Plummy blue/purple in color but not opaque. Fragrant plums and earthy flowers make for a compelling nose. Kind of a medium-weight mash-up of Pinot Noir and Mondeuse. The wine is very fresh and clean with an earthy, floral palate, mild tannins and pleasant acids to finish. Highly fragrant. Excellent.

2018 Garanoir, Domaine de la Vigne Blanche, “Cuvée Albertine”, Cologny, Geneva: Deep blue/purple in color. Rich, fragrant nose of plums, spice and a bit of cellar funk. The palate is rich, round and saturated with plum fruit, blackberries and hints of pepper. Low in acids and tannin but not flabby. A really good example of the variety from one of its best champions in Switzerland.

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