Known as the “Lost Bordeaux” grape, Carménère once thrived in the Bordeaux region of France and is believed to be one of the ancient grapes.
During the 1860s, Carménère, along with much of France’s vines, were infested by phylloxera, a tiny little aphid that came over from America. Already a difficult grape to grow, the Carménère vines were pulled up after the phylloxera epidemic and replaced with grapes that were higher yields for exportation: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
During this same time period, French vine cuttings of what was believed to be Merlot were sent to Chile. The grapes thrived in Chilean soil, but it wasn’t until the 1990s when scientists tested the vines that they discovered it was the long-lost Carménère grape. Today, Carménère is primarily produced in Chile. But outside of Chile, Carménère is found in Italy, California and the Walla Walla Valley.
In 1997, Leonetti’s Chris Figgins planted the first Carménère in Washington state from cuttings from the Guenoc and Langtry Estates Winery in California at the Leonetti Mill Creek Upland Vineyard. The following year some of those cuttings were shared with Seven Hills Vineyard and Mark Colvin of Colvin Cellars (now out of business). REININGER purchased a block of Carménère grapes from Seven Hills Vineyard as soon as they were eligible and our first vintage was released in 2002. To date, we are the longest running producers of Carménère in Washington.