The Carmenere variety was a noble strain planted in Bordeaux until the plague of phylloxera attacked France in 1860, causing their extinction. Before that, Carmenere was grown along with other local varieties such as Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, under the concept of Chateaux, where the selection and combination of these varieties gave rise to unique wine blends.
In the nineteenth century, Carmenere was one of the noble grape wine varieties widely planted in Bordeaux, and responsible for some of the great Bordeaux blends, until the devastating phylloxera pest struck France in 1860 leading to its extinction.
After phylloxera destroyed French vineyards, winemakers there tried to start over by replanting vines grafted with more pest-resistant US rootstocks. However, Carmenere cultivation did not produce good results. It did not acclimatize to the Bordeaux region’s growing conditions, as cold springs and early autumn rains produced significant difficulties in production and quality.
Thus, Carmenere became extinct in the resurrected Bordeaux wine industry and also throughout the world. More than 100 years after it had been forgotten, Carmenere revived again in a distant country – Chile – the variety’s new origin. Thanks to Chile’s four natural boundaries –the Andes Mountains, Pacific Ocean, Atacama Desert and Antarctic icefields– this country was the only place on Earth where Carmenere vineyards were safe from the phylloxera pest.
In addition to these formidable geographic barriers, Chile has an exceptional climate for wine growing and the long dry summers are a natural antidote for typical vineyard diseases. As a result, the natural virtues of Chile gave Carmenere a new home, with a sunny climate and natural protection.
Chile, Carmenere’s birthplace
In the twentieth century, Carmenere in Chile was mistaken for Merlot. In fact, it was called the “Chilean Merlot“, given its particular fruity, spicy aromas and sweet, gentle and rounded tannins. In Chile, Carmenere was originally grown in the Rapel and Maule valleys.
In the beginning, thought of as Merlot, this variety was harvested before it reached its ideal ripeness, a fact that hid Carmenere’s real winemaking potential.
In 1994 this situation changed, when French ampelographer Jean Michel Boursiquot, a speaker at the Sixth Latin American Viticulture and Enological Congress, held in Chile, identified this late-ripening Merlot clone as Carmenere. From then on, under its true name Carmenere burst upon the Chilean and world wine scene.
 Phylloxera is an insect about two millimeters long that lives in the roots and leaves of vines, absorbing its sap and destroying the plant. It is a pest originating in America, which first appeared in Europe in 1853 and ended with a large part of European vineyards.