Chardonnay and Gouais Blanc

The Murky Past
Ah, the French and their wine. Chablis can only be made from Chardonnay grapes. Wines must be created from the noble varieties, proven over centuries to grow perfectly in This Exact Spot of ground. Gouais Blanc? Hah! That reject from the grape-line was banned completely in France.

Or was it?

Dr. Carole Meredith has been doing Grape DNA Research for many years at the University of California at Davis. In a study her group publishes tomorrow in Science, she found that the noble Chardonnay, the elegant Gamay Noir, and many other classic grapes traced their parentage to a cross of Pinot and ... you guessed it ... the infamous Gouais Blanc.

The Bad Seed
According to the Associated Press, Dr. Meredith commented, "It is shocking that all of those varieties did spring from the same two parents, and ... that one of the parents is a mediocre grape with such a bad reputation that it was abandoned."

What a marvel of modern science. The same techniques that proved wayward fathers were responsible for children, and that linked suspects to horrific crimes, now has linked the mighty Chardonnay to a grape vine once hunted down and destroyed. Gouais blanc would be proud to see where her daughter ended up!

The Truth is Revealed
I asked Dr. Meredith how this had happened, and what the relationship was of the varous descendant grapes. She replied, "They are the direct children (i.e., not grandchildren or great-grandchildren, etc.). In each case there was a cross-pollination between a Pinot vine and a Gouais blanc vine and from the seed that developed a single seedling sprung up in a vineyard somewhere. A farmer took a liking to it and multiplied it by cuttings. That happened independently for each of the 16. And each has been maintained ever since by cuttings, as have Pinot and Gouais blanc."

Lisa Shea: Was there a particular grape you were following back for this research, or were you doing a general study?

Dr. Meredith: It was general. We had been accumulating DNA fingerprints of a number of winegrape varieties to use as references for identification work we were doing to verify the identity of winegrapes in California. Since we knew the information we were accumulating could tell us about genetic relationships, we decided to look. We expanded our group of varieties to include some quite obscure ones that we thought might have been important in the past. And that's how we found the Pinot - Gouais blanc connection.

Lisa Shea: I've worked in biotechs for many years, so I'm vastly interested to see the same technology being used in wine research!

Dr. Meredith: Yes--it's pretty much the same methodology. Grapes and humans aren't all that different in that regard.

And what is this Gouais Blanc? The Gouais blanc grape is believed to have been brought from Croatia into France by the Romans. Here it was so despised that even its name comes from a derogatory term. Ah, revenge is sweet. If it could, Gouais Blanc would be laughing now!

The Many Children of Gouais Blanc

Aubin vert
Bachet noir
Franc noir de la Haute Saône
Gamay blanc Gloriod
Gamay noir

Wine Myths Information
Wine History Information

All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.