Hybrid Grapes - Will they ever be accepted?

Posted by: BEB

Hybrid Grapes - Will they ever be accepted? - 07-05-2009 14:24:21

The recent comments about Pinotage got me to thinking about hybrid grape varietals and whether they will ever be fully embraced. In Virginia, hybrids such as Syval Blanc, Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc are regularly planted. But if a neophyte wine region is to get any respect, doesn’t it have to do so with known and accepted grape varietals? It’s hard enough to get someone to buy a wine from an unknown and unproven area. It would seem that convincing consumers to purchase both an unknown varietal from an unknown area would double the difficulty of marketing such a wine. And then there are the wine geeks (we know who we are) who know oh so much about varietals and, for the most part, often sniff at hybrid based wines. Jim Law, one of Virginia’s premier wine makers refers to this attitude - somewhat tongue in cheek - as “Grapism.” He may have a point. Hybrids rarely get press and when they do, the coverage seems to have an obligatory air to it. The number of hybrid wines in my cellar is the grand total of 1 and it’s a dessert style wine. When tasting at a winery, I’ll admit to being less interested in hybrid based wines. Why are hybrids not “in” wines? What will it take to make them “in” wines?
Posted by: blil

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-05-2009 14:38:00

I've help make (and naturally, tasted) dozens of wines made from Vidal, Seyval, Chambourcin, Ruby Cabernet, Muscadine and other "lesser" grapes from Georgia and Texas and they've yet to earn my respect.

To me, it's a simple matter of economics. When I can buy a Seyval or Chambourcin for less than the price of a good Argentinian Torrontes or Spanish Garnacha, then I'll sit up and pay attention.

Until then, hybrid grapes from "other" American regions will just be a touristy novelty.
Posted by: Marc Hanes

Being Fair - 07-05-2009 15:13:47

My sentiments fall along BLIL's line of thinking. It's not that hybrids or native grapes make "bad" wine, I had a bottle of Chambourcin from Westbend in NC recently and it was nice (and $15). But, as I have said many times in the past, it's a world-wide competitive playing field with very little favoritism for the "home team." This becomes more acute when viewed through the lens of limited financial resources. When I visited the Westbend winery they had a nice Cabernet Sauvignon reserve wine but it was like $28. I have a list of 4,926 wines I already wish I had the coin to purchase *before* visiting this winery and nothing I tasted there made this wine leap to the head of the pack.

Curiously, the winemaker made an unannounced visit to my store two weeks later and tasted me on many of the wines I had already tasted. They were all decent but nothing which would create more revenue for my store than other competitor wines. I was very pleasant with the dude but I could also tell he was sort of pissed that I wasn't genuflecting about the wines and placing an order on the spot. But I have a duty to stock wines that will sell with a "right sized" amount of hand sells.

Even before his visit I was considering stocking the Chambourcin because it is different and fairly priced. I still very well might. But I can tell you I am not getting any special orders for Chambourcin (or other hybrids)! And hitting the North Carolina wineries is a pretty popular recreational activity hereabouts. So I am not sure it is 100% "grapism" or such. People here want their Red Diamond Merlot or Joel Gott Zinfandel and lack the level of inquisitiveness to seek out Vidal Blanc, etc.

Personally, I like trying such wines but, again, only if the price is right and doesn't make me think about other wines I am already familiar with for years and thus will go unpurchased because of buying a hybrid grape based wine. Limited cash means you make choices.

As an aside I am curious as to why Chambourcin has turned out more or less a failure in the Loire Valley. There's purportedly about 9,000 acres planted in the Loire but I have yet to see a single French Chambourcin here in the US. Maybe part of the answer to your question lies here?

I can get a nice Picpoul for $10, a killer Gros Manseng for $12, etc. Can I get equal quality and price from a hybrid? Send free sample bottles to Hanes at...
Posted by: Peter May

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-06-2009 11:10:16

Good question, but lets state from the outset that Pinotage is not a hybrid. Neither is Ruby Cabernet mentioned further down.

And you won't see a varietal French Chambourcin in your shops because of EU anti-hybrid laws would forbid it from being sold. In the EU a hybrid wine, if exceptionally allowed as in England, cannot be labelled as a quality wine.

There is definitely an understanding amongst most wine experts that hybrid -- and native vine species -- cannot make quality wines.

But I have tasted certain examples that I think are as good as some vinifera and that I would buy including -- Norton, Chambourcin, Baco Noir, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Ravat.

Here in the UK we see hardly any hybrids, most common is English Seyval Blanc which makes a steely crisp dry white though is comingless common as vineyards here switch to Chardonnay and Pinot.

However ASDA - a UK supermarket chain owned by WalMart - used to stock an Australian Chambourcin that was very popular; the shelves were often emptied even though it was priced higher than similar wines.

When I have been in the US in states where hybrids are grown they seem very accepted by the locals.

I think that some hybrid/natives can make good wines, but if people aren't prepared to pay for them then less will be spent on their winemaking and there is a vicious circle.


I reckon tho', that hybrids won't be accepted amongst cognescenti until RP gives one a 90+ score smile
Posted by: John Tomasso

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Will they ever be accepted? - 07-06-2009 12:00:01

I know next to nothing about the hybrid varieties, but IIRC, there was a guy on WLDG a while back that earned the name "The Hybrid Guy" because of his cheerleading for wines made of those grapes.
Posted by: Peter May

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Will they ever be accepted? - 07-06-2009 13:03:38

Yes, Paul Bulas. See http://hybridwines.blogspot.com

Paul's opinion is that they with native grapes are American varieties that grow well and produce well in local conditions and should be supported.

He deplores the way many commercially are made overly sweetened and makes his own dry versions.
Posted by: Eric_Anderson

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-06-2009 15:35:09

Originally Posted By: Peter May
...

When I have been in the US in states where hybrids are grown they seem very accepted by the locals.

I think that some hybrid/natives can make good wines, but if people aren't prepared to pay for them then less will be spent on their winemaking and there is a vicious circle.


I reckon tho', that hybrids won't be accepted amongst cognescenti until RP gives one a 90+ score smile

Agreed, it does seem to be a localized movement with specific pockets of consumers. When GrapeRadio went to the East Coast we saw/tasted several varieties, including Norton and Chambourcin. The wines seemed arguably well-made, but none of them particularly excited us. It seemed to me like these wines would be a hard sell, and yet one Virginia producer, Chrysalis, has gone to the extent of planting significantly more Norton grapes. So, obviously there's a market for non-vinifera grapes somewhere.
Posted by: BEB

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Will they ever be accepted? - 07-07-2009 11:57:16

Originally Posted By: Peter May
Good question, but lets state from the outset that Pinotage is not a hybrid. Neither is Ruby Cabernet mentioned further down.

Maybe we need to step back and define what a hybrid is. The Oxford Companion to Wine and The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia both define Pinotage as a hybrid. Ditto Ruby Cabernet.

Posted by: Ken Zinns

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-07-2009 14:17:39

Originally Posted By: BEB
Originally Posted By: Peter May
Good question, but lets state from the outset that Pinotage is not a hybrid. Neither is Ruby Cabernet mentioned further down.

Maybe we need to step back and define what a hybrid is. The Oxford Companion to Wine and The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia both define Pinotage as a hybrid. Ditto Ruby Cabernet.


My understanding is that a hybrid refers only to a cross between Vitis vinifera and non-vinifera varieties. So Pinotage (cross between Cinsault & Pinot Noir) and Ruby Cabernet (cross between Carignane and Cabernet Sauvignon) would not be hybrids under that definition. Sounds like Peter is using the same definition for hybrid.
Posted by: David Nelson

Norton is not a hybrid - 07-07-2009 14:42:45

A couple of folks have mentioned Norton in this thread, but Norton (and Cynthiana) are pure vitis aestivalis. No cross, no hybrid, just an American grape variety of its own.

We drink a decent amount of Missouri stuff - white and red. The value is not great, but I'm willing to pay a couple of extra $$ to support local folks trying to make good wine. The biggest problem here is finding people who keep the residual sugar remotely in check.

Cheers,

Dave
Posted by: BEB

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-07-2009 14:54:21

Originally Posted By: Ken Zinns
Originally Posted By: BEB
Originally Posted By: Peter May
Good question, but lets state from the outset that Pinotage is not a hybrid. Neither is Ruby Cabernet mentioned further down.

Maybe we need to step back and define what a hybrid is. The Oxford Companion to Wine and The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia both define Pinotage as a hybrid. Ditto Ruby Cabernet.


My understanding is that a hybrid refers only to a cross between Vitis vinifera and non-vinifera varieties. So Pinotage (cross between Cinsault & Pinot Noir) and Ruby Cabernet (cross between Carignane and Cabernet Sauvignon) would not be hybrids under that definition. Sounds like Peter is using the same definition for hybrid.

I suspect so and that would make sense. The OCW has a fairly broad definition that permits both naturally occurring and man-made hybrids, but does not seem to restrict the definition to V.vinifera and v. lambrusca (or other species). When introduced to me (back in the day), Pinotage was described as a French Hybrid which is supported by other sources. If a hybrid is technically v. vinifera and non v. vinifera, then what, technically, is a man-made crossing of v. vinifera with a different v. vinifera (say, crossing pinot noir with syrah)?

But the larger point is, regardless of its scientific cataloging, these 19th and 20th century man-made grapes don't seem to get much respect. Is it lack of quality, lack of education, lack of exposure or long standing bias?
Posted by: David Nelson

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-07-2009 15:04:56

Originally Posted By: BEB
But the larger point is, regardless of its scientific cataloging, these 19th and 20th century man-made grapes don't seem to get much respect. Is it lack of quality, lack of education, lack of exposure or long standing bias?


The vast, vast, vast majority of vitis vinifera don't get much respect either. I can't put my hands on the number of varieties of that species that are out there quickly, but it's thousands, and we talk about what, 50, most of the time?

Cheers,

Dave
Posted by: BEB

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-07-2009 15:09:02

yep, we talk about a small fraction of v.vinifera. There are thousands. Heck, of those that we do talk about, even some of those aren't that well known.
Posted by: blil

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-07-2009 16:15:58

Originally Posted By: David Nelson
The vast, vast, vast majority of vitis vinifera don't get much respect either. I can't put my hands on the number of varieties of that species that are out there quickly, but it's thousands, and we talk about what, 50, most of the time?

Cheers,

Dave


I think even that is generous. I'll bet 95% of the conversation here revolves around about 25 grapes.
Posted by: Eric_Anderson

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-07-2009 17:03:42

Originally Posted By: blil
Originally Posted By: David Nelson
The vast, vast, vast majority of vitis vinifera don't get much respect either. I can't put my hands on the number of varieties of that species that are out there quickly, but it's thousands, and we talk about what, 50, most of the time?

Cheers,

Dave


I think even that is generous. I'll bet 95% of the conversation here revolves around about 25 grapes.

Yep, and to BEB's point, "...these 19th and 20th century man-made grapes don't seem to get much respect. Is it lack of quality, lack of education, lack of exposure or long standing bias?" The answer is arguably all of the above - but I think it would come down to familiarity and what's available in the market place. If presented with too many choices in wine, I dare say many people would just go back to cocktails and beer.
Posted by: Eric Lundblad

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-08-2009 01:17:55

Was Durif (aka Petite Sirah) an intentional cross, or a discovery? I thought it was the former, but now I'm not so sure. If it was an intentional cross then it'd be a man made grape that is appreciated.

As for Pinotage, or for the ones I've tried (I've tried a few, including being at a Pinotage tasting), I think its lack of acceptance is deserved.

The fact that crossing Cab Franc with Sav Blanc gave us Cab Sav shows that hybridizing grapes is a tricky business.
Posted by: BEB

Re: Norton is not a hybrid - 07-08-2009 01:51:05

Originally Posted By: David Nelson
A couple of folks have mentioned Norton in this thread, but Norton (and Cynthiana) are pure vitis aestivalis. No cross, no hybrid, just an American grape variety of its own.
That's my understanding also, Dave. That and $1.50 will get you a cup of coffee. For real authority, the OCW supports that view.
My impression from the thread drift, however, is that Norton was merely added as yet another example of a grape variety that doesn't get much respect. Of course, that's to be expected of anything without European origins grown east of the west face of the Rockies, right? whistle
Posted by: BEB

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-08-2009 01:57:19

Originally Posted By: Eric Lundblad
The fact that crossing Cab Franc with Sav Blanc gave us Cab Sav shows that hybridizing grapes is a tricky business.
But that wasn't an intentional cross was it, Eric? Isn't it thought to be a natural fluke and not a man-made cross? And that's really one of the points of my question: Can intentional crosses designed by man come any where close to being as good as what nature stumbles across?
Posted by: Peter May

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Will they ever be accepted? - 07-08-2009 09:58:40

Originally Posted By: BEB
Originally Posted By: Peter May
Good question, but lets state from the outset that Pinotage is not a hybrid. Neither is Ruby Cabernet mentioned further down.

Maybe we need to step back and define what a hybrid is. The Oxford Companion to Wine and The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia both define Pinotage as a hybrid. Ditto Ruby Cabernet.


I have both the first edition and the latest, third, edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine and it cleary defines what a hybrid is and it clearly does not define either Pinotage or Ruby Cabernet as hybrids.

Perhaps you can check again?
Posted by: Peter May

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-08-2009 10:01:50

Originally Posted By: Eric Lundblad
Was Durif (aka Petite Sirah) an intentional cross, or a discovery?


Intentional, hence its name Durif is the name of its creator.
Posted by: Peter May

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-08-2009 10:33:49

Originally Posted By: BEB
The OCW has a fairly broad definition that permits both naturally occurring and man-made hybrids, but does not seem to restrict the definition to V.vinifera and v. lambrusca (or other species).


The viticultural definition of hybrid, as supported by OCW, is the offspring of a crossing between varieties of different species.

Whether man-made or naturally occurring doesn't affect the definition.

I thought the title of this discussion suggested that the real dividing line with grape varieties is between vitis vinifera and everything else. A cross between two varieties of v. lambrusca maybe a cross but it still isn't v. vinifera. A crossing between v. vinifera and anything else is a hybrid and so isn't v. vinifera.


Originally Posted By: BEB
Pinotage was described as a French Hybrid which is supported by other sources.


I'd be interested to know of these sources.

Originally Posted By: BEB

If a hybrid is technically v. vinifera and non v. vinifera, then what, technically, is a man-made crossing of v. vinifera with a different v. vinifera (say, crossing pinot noir with syrah)?


A cross.

Interesting you choose pinot & syrah; that is one of the theories of the parentage of Pinotage discussed in my book.



Posted by: Peter May

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-08-2009 10:50:45

Originally Posted By: BEB
Can intentional crosses designed by man come any where close to being as good as what nature stumbles across?


Well, yes.

The grape varieties we see in commercial use, such as Cab Sauv, Syrah, Chardonnay etc etc are the result of natural crosses but the only reason they have survived is because man chose them to survive. All the thousands or millions of natural crosses that weren't selected because they were not good enough didn't survive.

All the crossing and hybridizing that has been and continues to be taking place all over the world produce hundreds of thousands of varieties that are eventually found to be not worthy. Those few that go into production, such as the recent Traminette, Marselan and Nouvelle, are very rare
Posted by: Peter May

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Will they ever be accepted? - 07-08-2009 10:55:38

Rereading this thread I am wondering whether the term hybrid used in the thread title and first post was used to mean a man-made cross.

If so, that isn't the standard accepted viticultural definition of hybrid and means that we've been talking at cross purposes.
Posted by: BEB

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Will they ever be accepted? - 07-08-2009 17:36:29

I did. It does.

Perhaps you are using a more technical term term that that supplied.
Posted by: Peter May

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Will they ever be accepted? - 07-08-2009 19:01:53

Originally Posted By: BEB
I did. It does.

Perhaps you are using a more technical term term that that supplied.


Hybrid is hardly a technical term when discussing wine on a wine website.

'My' definition is the one given in the OCW that you have been referring to: "hybrids, in common viticultural terms, the offspring of two varieties of different species, as distinct from a cross between varieties of the same species."
Posted by: BEB

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Will they ever be accepted? - 07-08-2009 20:14:01

That's correct. And a Pinotage is a cross of 2 varieties, correct? Yes. The OCW uses a very loose/broad definition. One that makes Pinotage a hybrid.

I clearly opened the door for insight into the definition of a hybrid here. You've been given ample opportunity to explain the differences. Instead, you've been taking cheap swipes. If you want to play professorial "hide the ball" with pedantic follow up, you might try e-bob. It doesn't play well here.

Posted by: Ken Zinns

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Will they ever be accepted? - 07-08-2009 21:24:01

BEB, I don't really understand your most recent post. As far as I can see, Peter has been clear with his definitions (about as clear as could be in his latest post) and I haven't read anything from him that I'd put in the "cheap swipes" category.

Pinotage is not considered a hybrid by any definition I've ever run across, since it is not a cross of two different grape species, but a cross between two varieties of Vitis vinifera. What's the OCW definition you've referred to that is more broad?

Not that Wikipedia is always a reliable reference, but this entry seems pretty straightforward and is in keeping with the definitions I'm familiar with: List of grape varieties

So it sounds like your original question was in regard to man-made grape cultivars that are inter-species hybrids as well as those that are crosses of varieties within species (whether that's vinifera, lambrusca, whatever). You're right, few of the man-made hybrids or crosses get much respect, and based on ones I've tried, I've found very few that approach the same level of interest or quality of the better-known vinifera wine grapes.
Posted by: Eric_Anderson

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Will they ever be accepted? - 07-08-2009 21:55:25

yes, but what about the Prius? I think it gets some respect.
Posted by: Marc Hanes

Tone on Tails - 07-09-2009 00:14:37

I do think that definitions have maybe not been as technical (read as *not* two wine geeks chatting after 4-5 glasses) as they might be. There aren't that many "high level" technical conversations here, more casual conversation. I will add that I think the tone of Peter's posts might have been more "how can I help you?" rather than "look, here's the facts, disagree if you want [dummy]."

An a former educator it's about helping people to learn at *their* speed and level of sophistication not about how the educator thinks it should be done. Plenty of of good professors and bad professors (as instructors). Delivery of knowledge is as important as the knowledge itself.

Anyway, directly typed from page 357 of The Oxford Companion to Wine, Second Edition:

hybrids, in common viticultural terms, the offspring of two varieties of different species, as distinct from a CROSS between two varieties of the same species (see VITIS for details of the various species of the vine genus.) EUROPEAN UNION authorities prefer the somewhat cumbersome term 'interspecific cross' to the word hybrid, which has pejorative connotations within Europe.

Hybrids can occur naturally by cross-pollination, as happened, for example, in early American viticulture (see AMERICAN HYBRIDS). More commonly, however, hybrids have been deliberately produced by man (see NEW VARIETIES and VINE BREEDING) to combine in the progeny of some of the desirable characteristics of the parents. The viticultural activity was particularly important in the late 19th century when European, and especially French, breeders tried to combine the desirable wine quality of European VINIFERA varieties with AMERICAN VINE SPECIES' resistance to introduced American pests and diseases, especially the PHYLLOXERA louse, which was devastating European vineyards (see FRENCH HYBRIDS).

[Four more paragraphs follow, left out for copyright reasons and shit like that. The basics needed here get covered above.]
Posted by: Carole Meredith

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-09-2009 14:15:40

I don't think Durif was an intentional cross. Mr. Durif described his new variety as a "seedling of Peloursin". He never mentioned Syrah, so I don't think he ever knew that it was the pollen parent. I think he planted seeds from Peloursin fruit, evaluated the seedlings and chose one of them to release and name after himself. If he had made a deliberate cross between Peloursin and Syrah, he would have described it as such.

Most seedlings from a vinifera variety will be the result of self-pollination, but a few will be the result of pollination from other nearby vines. In a commercial, single-variety vineyard, nearby vines would be the same variety, but Mr. Durif was a nurseryman and would have had a lot of different varieties in his experimental vineyard (including, presumably, Syrah). So one would expect that some of his seedlings would be crosses between Peloursin and other varieties.

Carole
Posted by: Peter May

Re: Hybrid Grapes - Well they ever be accepted? - 07-09-2009 15:17:43



Thanks for that informative update, Carole.

Much appreciated.