Chambourcin may be the most popular red wine grape variety grown in the Indiana Uplands American Viticulture Area. Interestingly, unless you are familiar with Midwest and Eastern US wines in general you may not have heard of Chambourcin before. What's the history of the grape? Does any other area grow it? What kind of wines can consumers expect from Chambourcin?
Chambourcin is what is called an intra-specific hybrid grape, a cross of European and American grape varieties. Designed to both taste good and be disease hearty, the grape gained immediate popularity in French vineyards, especially in the Muscadet region, where, in the 1970’s it became the third most planted grape variety by acreage behind Melon and Folle Blanche varieties. However, with politics as they are, the French government only wanted “pure” European varieties to be used in wine, regardless of how tasty these hybrids can be, so Chambourcin became banned even for making the very basic Vins De Pays (aka table wines) of France.
In areas free of government interference, such as New South Wales, Australia, and the United States, chambourcin has prospered mostly because it tastes great and gives us winemakers lots of flexible wine making options.
Like France, the United States’ West Coast has some built in prejudices against hybrid varieties. However, as consumer personal preferences have started to overtake wine pundits opinions as to what wines are bought and consumed, we can imagine someday that chambourcin vines could make a trek across the Rockies.
The Indiana Uplands Wine Trail wineries grow Chambourcin for many reasons. Number 1, we think it makes an excellent wine on its own, be it a blush or a red. Second, many of us have found it to be a super blending wine, adding balance and character to a whole host of wines we produce and sell. The vines are relatively easy to grow, are cold hardy, and provide a substantial amount of crop per acre to make it worth our while.
Mainly though, we grow it because it tastes good, and because we can do a lot with it. There are many styles of Chambourcin on the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail. In interviewing the winemakers, I saw multiple examples where Chambourcin was used to make Port and other fortified dessert wines, dry red blends, dry red wines made of 100% Chambourcin, blush wines, and sweeter wines. Chambourcin provides a very berry delicious fruity character, with a moderate to lighter balance of tannins. This gives us winemakers a lot of flexibility and a lot of play in crafting our wines. And we wouldn’t do so much with it if the customers didn’t like it so much! So the next time you’re traveling the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail, ask each winery to pour you a taste of Chambourcin, in all its styles. I think you’ll be amazed at what you taste!
The Indiana Uplands Wine Trail